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Locke: City can’t afford to pay for 2 overlapping police services

Farnworth says budget that fits within Surrey’s fiscal framework was submitted last fall
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has issued a statement about the city’s policing budget concerns. (Government of British Columbia/Anna Burns photos)

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke issued a statement Monday (May 13) to call attention to changes she says the provincial government made to the Police Act just days before recent court proceedings.

The statement says on April 25, 2024, the Province amended the Police Act to include a new section (Section 27, subsection 3.1), requiring any municipality to notify a municipal police board and the Director of Police Services by May 15 to object to any aspect of a budget proposed by a municipal police board.

Today, the City of Surrey has informed the director of police services and the provincially appointed administrator of the Surrey Police Board that it is upholding its approved budget and that Surrey taxpayers will not be on the hook for additional policing costs related to having two overlapping forces, the statement continues.

Otherwise, if city council were to approve SPS and RCMP’s proposed budgets, the city would be looking at an additional cost of more than $37M. This would double the approved 2024 property tax increase of seven per cent to more than 14 per cent, it reads.

On May 6, 2024, the City of Surrey approved a policing operations budget of $221.6 million, which will fund in excess of a combined sworn member strength of 785 members, the statement emphasizes.

READ ALSO: Surrey would’ve had a zero tax hike in 2024 with no SPS, council hears

“Our goal has always been to protect taxpayers and public safety, and our approach ensures that Surrey taxpayers will not be responsible for covering the out-of-control costs of the NDP’s imposed police transition,” says the emailed statement.

“In 2023, Surrey Police Service dramatically overspent their budget, going 45 per cent over what they were approved to spend. The City cannot afford to pay for two overlapping police services just because the NDP continue to have no plan for this transition.”

The statement concluded by noting the Police Act changes were made without any consultation with the city, weeks before the new imposed deadline, and “have serious implications for municipal budgets throughout B.C.”

When asked by Black Press Media about Locke’s statement and what it means for Surrey residents, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said a lack of funding isn’t the issue.

“No, there will not be a lack of money to pay for the officers,” Farnworth said.

“What it means is, is that they are using the section of the Act for which it was designed, which is if they don’t agree with the budget that’s been submitted by the police board that it can be reviewed by the director of police services, who will make a binding decision.”

When pressed about the budget and expected tax hike, Farnworth said the administrator of the police board submitted a budget that fits within Surrey’s fiscal framework last November.

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor vents about policing court case at council meeting

He reiterated the city is using a dispute mechanism and that a binding ruling will be made by the director of police services, but didn’t say when that decision was expected.

Lock said the city wouldn’t have even known about the new May 15 deadline to dispute if it hadn’t been for the recent court proceedings, noting it’s very new, with the amendment made only one working day before court proceedings.

Council voted 5-4 to formally not accept the $126 million SPS budget, as the city already went through a budget process resulting in a seven per cent tax increase, Locke explained. If they didn’t dispute, the city will be on the hook for both RCMP and SPS budgets, which would mean a 14 per cent tax increase, rather than seven, for residents, Locke noted, and added she was “shocked” that four councillors would “want to put that on Surrey residents.”

“I can tell you residents in the city are really struggling affordability. It is a big issue,” Locke said.

Meantime, Coun. Linda Annis of Surrey First issued a press release Monday maintaining Surrey residents would not be facing a tax increase had the City accepted $250 million from the provincial government and used $90 million in severance for the SPS that “continues to sit in the City’s budget, even though the transition has been legislated and the SPS will be the police of jurisdiction in November.

“Mayor Locke continues to throw up costly roadblocks,” Annis charged. “When Surrey Police Board administrator Mike Serr presented the SPS budget, it was completely detailed and made good sense. However, we still have no details about what the RCMP budget is. This is important because as the SPS staffs up, the RCMP should be deploying members elsewhere and staffing down.

“The most important takeaway for our taxpayers is that the mayor’s stalling tactics are wasting time and money, and there was no need for a tax increase this year if we had accepted the $250 million over 10 years that the province was prepared to fund, and used the $90 million set aside for severance,” she said.

– with files from Wolfgang Depner and Tom Zytaruk

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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