Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum talks to media on Monday (Dec. 2) after council gave the green light to a controversial five-year budget. (Photo: Amy Reid)

City council

‘A disaster’: Surrey council OKs budget despite deemed ‘risk’ to public safety

Doug McCallum says budget is ‘one of the best’ he’s seen in all his years as mayor

Surrey council gave the green light Monday to a controversial budget despite dozens of people voicing fierce opposition to it – and the proposed policing transition – during a midday public hearing.

The five-year financial plan allocates $129.6 million to Surrey’s proposed municipal police force over five years, and its approval means there will be no new firefighters or police officers hired in 2020.

Former Safe Surrey councillor Steven Pettigrew voted against the budget and described it as a “disaster.” He said the “entire budget exists and breathes for one purpose – and that’s to support our police transition.”

“It’s going to hurt the people of our city. It’s going to hurt us now and for decades to come. I don’t want anything to do with it,” he said after expressing his opposition to hiring freezes on first responders that also partially extends to staff at city hall.

“Right now we’re short about 24 officers. By the time this budget is finished we’ll be short 72 officers. We’re short on firefighters. My family is at risk and so is your family.”

Pettigrew later said it “guts and bleeds the city dry” and that he’s “ashamed” of it.

He also criticized the plan for lack of investment into civic amenities, as well as arts and culture.

READ ALSO: Surrey budget moves forward despite strong opposition at public hearing

On Monday night, council voted 5-4 to give first, second and third reading to the budget. It is now expected to receive final adoption on Dec. 16.

No Safe Surrey councillors spoke on why they supported the budget.

Mayor Doug McCallum spoke to media about the budget for the first time just before 8 p.m., after the vote. He said this is “one of the best” budgets he’s seen in all his years in mayor.

He said his Safe Surrey team campaigned on delivering fiscally responsible budgets, and that’s what they’ve done.

“We stood up to what the people of Surrey elected us to do and we will continue to listen to the people of Surrey and what they want to see in Surrey,” he told reporters.

What does he say to criticisms that Surrey will be less safe with no new police officers and firefighters in 2020?

“The responsibility for the officers in the police and in the fire department rest entirely with the police chief and with the fire chief,” he replied. “When we have our own city police which we’re going to get very quickly, the police chief determines how many officers he or she needs to make a city safe.”

McCallum had strong words for councillors who spoke out against the budget, who had split from his team, saying their comments are “reflective of how some councillors look at elections, and then to change their mind after they get elected is the judgment of the people of Surrey in the future.”

The mayor told reporters that “we hope to hire new police officers, our own police officers very very quickly, maybe in the first quarter even.”

“So when we start to hire those, then it’s up to that police chief, the new police chief, to determine how many we need… So to say we won’t have any, we don’t know at this time, but we have to do a budget by law, now.”

As for the public, the mayor said “this is the lowest number of people at public hearing on finance for a whole number of years.” He said last year there were “triple” the number of comments submitted, which exceeded 50 this year.

“Last year for instance it was well over 100 responses, so the concept of what you saw out there, it was a very low number of turnout.”

McCallum said he “always respects what the public has to say” and “appreciates all of their comments.”

“I wasn’t happy with the politeness of all of those people but at the same time their comments I always appreciate.”

Independent Councillor Brenda Locke called the budget “regressive” and “an absolute gutting of our city.”

Lone Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis expressed concern about children not having enough civic amenities, given the budget de-prioritizing such projects.

“Having rec centres and community centres provides a really good opportunity for them to have a place to go after school and participate in sports,” she said. “We’re not building for the future.”

The vote came after a nearly two-hour public hearing earlier in the day that saw dozens of people voice fierce opposition to the budget and the policing transition.

From longtime residents to business leaders to the head of the Surrey Fire Fighters Association and even a widow whose husband was murdered in 2018, virtually all who spoke urged council to reconsider the budget.

Some questioned whether Surrey would ultimately be safer with a municipal force.

SEE MORE: New Surrey Police force ‘swallowing up’ city’s funds, Annis says

Mark McRae, president of Surrey Fire Fighters Association made a powerful presentation to council, beginning with 30 seconds of silence.

“You thought that 30 seconds of silence was long. Seconds matter. Seconds matter,” he said. “It’s important to share that because as we move forward with this budget the way it’s currently drafted, the time it takes for fire to respond will be negatively impacted.”

He noted that over the last 10 years, more than 100,000 residents have moved into Surrey, yet over that time, “we’ve only added two firefighters on duty to protect them 24 hours a day.”

Delaying resources is going to “place our department further behind,” said McRae.

He noted there are 364 firefighters here in Surrey, which is less than half of Vancouver.

“We know we do more with less year after year.”

One of many speakers to elicit applause was widow Darlene Bennett, who spoke to council in support of the Surrey RCMP as she fought back tears. Her husband and hockey dad Paul Bennett was shot in their driveway in Clayton Heights in 2018.

“This whole plan is a waste of taxpayer money and quite frankly a slap in the face to the victims left behind. The RCMP are doing the best job possible with the resources afforded to them by this government.”

Bennett noted that Surrey’s crime severity index is down.

“I support our Surrey RCMP and firefighters 100 per cent. Be thankful for what you have, hold it close, because life is that precious. I just wish you could see that.”

Ramona Kaptyn, president of the Surrey chapter of Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said members of the group have indicated they “feel less safe in Surrey because there’s no new RCMP or firefighters being hired.”

Jasmine Garcha spoke to council on how this budget will impact future generations. A former youth worker, Garcha said she left that line of work after becoming “burnt out” due to lack of resources.

Garcha told council the public should have a say on the plan – the policing transition specifically.

“And no, an election is not a referendum,” she said.

Garcha said she prays no lives are lost due to the under resourcing of first responders. She also told McCallum a canal is the last thing this city needs.

“Think about our youth and the impact the decisions these will have on them,” she urged.

While the budget allocates more than $133 million to capital projects, there is no mention of several postponed projects postponed in the 2018 budget cycle, including a community centre and library in Grandview Heights, as well as the acquisition of land for a performing arts centre in City Centre.

The five-year plan does partially revive one of the projects postponed in 2018 – a Cloverdale Sport and Ice Complex. It was arguably the most controversial element of the 2019 budget. The draft budget also allocates $10 million to the “postponed” Cloverdale Sport & Ice Complex in 2024, the final year of the draft five-year plan, and $50,000 for that project in 2020.

The $50,000 would be used to “conceptualize additional ice in the Cloverdale community to meet the community’s needs,” staff indicate in their report.

Meantime, there will be a 2.9 per cent residential property tax increase, which equates to a $59 increase for the average single-family dwelling – an increase that staff indicates will “predominately be used to offset increased public safety resourcing and expenditures.”

In addition to the property tax increases, utilities are set to rise. Together, with the proposed property tax increase, those equate to an increase of roughly $104 for the average single-family home in Surrey.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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