For the first time in decades, the city is organizing the annual Mayor’s State of the City Address.
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said city staff informed her three weeks ago that the city has decided to use “internal city resources” to put on this year’s event.
“They didn’t indicate why,” Huberman said Thursday. “I think a lot of our advocacy positions that we’ve had for years, for decades, are in conflict with the current local government. Perhaps that’s the reason, I don’t know. It’s unfortunate. We are a not-for-profit, we do a very good job, a professional job, hosting the event every year.”
In response to several requests for an interview with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, the Mayor’s Office sent an emailed statement.
“For decades one group has put on the State of the City Address and I felt it was time for a change,” the statement read. “The City of Surrey has a strong and capable special events team, which I have tasked to organize this annual event as we move forward.”
Councillor Brenda Locke said she had not been made aware of the change, when asked for comment Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know anything about it,” she told the Now-Leader. “That’s the mayor’s area.”
The Surrey Board of Trade hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with McCallum on a number of issues – and hasn’t shied away from vocalizing it.
The business group has long advocated for light rail transit, a fully funded project endorsed by the former civic government but halted immediately by the newly elected council last fall. In a release two days after the civic election last October, SBOT said it will “continue to advocate for LRT, RCMP and ridesharing despite” the results of the election.
At the time, Huberman said she “hopes that the city’s new government will always be open for dialogue even when we have different perspectives.”
On Jan. 29 Safe Surrey Coalition councillors were a no-show at a Surrey Board of Trade-hosted forum on the city’s policing future amid the slate vowing to replace Surrey RCMP with a municipal force. Surrey council’s plan to replace RCMP came under some scrutiny at the event.
SBOT also said it was “disappointed” with the city’s budget, which delayed several civic amenities in an efford to reduce the city’s accrual of debt, and also meant no new police officers would be hired in 2019.
Meantime, last December Surrey council reduced the business group’s budget from a recommended $40,000 to $10,000, after SBOT initially asked for $85,000.
At the time, McCallum noted the move “makes it equal with the South Surrey Chamber of Commerce and also the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce.”
SBOT has hosted the Mayor’s State of the City Address for the past 26 years that Huberman has been with the organization, and she is told the group hosted them in the 1980s as well.
According to Huberman, the event has cost between $80,000 to $100,000 in recent years, but she wouldn’t say how much revenue it brought in.
“We break even when we factor in staff time,” said Huberman.
Tickets for former mayor Linda Hepner’s fourth and final State of the City Address in 2018 were $110, or $1,210 for a table of 11. Given the estimated crowd size of 500 people at last year’s event, that would equate to roughly $55,000 in ticket sales, if all sold individually.
“In the end, things change, that’s life and we move forward,” Huberman said. “Whenever the event is, we will be there. I will be there. We want to hear the city’s new economic strategy under this government and we’ll see how we move forward.”
– With file from Tom Zytaruk