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

City councillor says draft city budget shows new force coming at expense of ‘everything else’ in the city

Surrey City Councillor Linda Annis says the city’s plan to switch from the RCMP to its own police force is “swallowing up every available dollar” at city hall while Councillor Steven Pettigrew says its draft budget, if approved, “will continue to destroy the fabric of our city.”

The new police force will come at the expense of road repairs, rinks, recreation centres, and more police officers and firefighters for Surrey, Annis said, after reviewing the city’s draft budget, which is expected to go to a public hearing before the finance committee on Dec. 2.

Pettigrew echoed her.

“It will take years if not decades to recover from this type of fiscal ideology,” he said. “I hope that the people of Surrey will speak up and voice their concerns.”

Last year’s approved five-year budget postponed $136 million in capital projects, in an effort to reduce required debt, Mayor Doug McCallum said at the time.

Now, Pettigrew says, “this budget focuses all of its attention on one thing – creating a new Surrey Police Force.”

“This will be done at the expense of any new capital projects – example, arenas, improving our road network, adding new resources to match our city’s growth. The people of Surrey are very frustrated with the lack of improvements to their community and the hamstringing of our first responders.”

READ ALSO: Disappointment, frustration after Surrey council votes to approve budget Dec. 17, 2018

The draft financial capital plan budgets $45.2 million for Surrey’s new police department transition. The plan allocates $84.4 million in “additional” operating costs on top of the expected one-time transition costs. With contingencies added, that equates to $129.6 million over the five-year period.

Annis says it’s easy to see the proposed Surrey Police Department “is being pushed forward by the mayor and his four councillors at a cost to absolutely everything else in our city.”

“Forget about new city infrastructure, road repairs, new rinks or much-needed additional police and firefighters for our growing city. This budget has just one thing on its mind and that’s funding the mayor’s police department. There’s nothing else on his radar screen.”

For the second year in a row, there are no new police officers on the city’s books for 2020.

And no new firefighters are to be hired next year, if the budget is approved, “due to the priority in establishing” of a new police department and to keep “tax increases to a minimum.”

Further, the plan calls for a hiring freeze at city hall outside of staff required for new facilities to open, such as the Clayton Heights Community Centre.

Staff note in budget documents that “this is not a long term sustainable strategy” and state that “further staffing adjustments may be made during the course of 2020 if service delivery demands increase beyond what has been anticipated.”

homelessphoto

Linda Annis

Councillor Mandeep Nagra is defending the draft budget.

“It’s safety we’re buying, and you know people are ready to pay for the safety. They want Surrey to be the safe place, and that’s what we’re doing.”

McCallum is not expected to comment on the draft budget until after the public hearing, City of Surrey communications manager Oliver Lum said. The finance committee will decide if the draft budget will go to regular council for approval.

Meantime, Annis says taxpayers “shouldn’t trust” the SPD policing budget numbers because they “don’t add up.”

“There’s no one at city hall who can say with any authority that they are accurate,” Annis said. ”The mayor’s only focus is his proposed police department and this draft budget reinforces that everything else in the city is going to suffer. Frankly, the message from this budget is SPD at any cost, regardless of what it means to the rest of the city and our taxpayers and neighbourhoods. This kind of budget, with its single focus on giving SPD every available dollar means that as a growing city we will fall behind in our infrastructure.”

Replying to Annis’s criticism that the plan is dominated by the policing transition at the cost of “everything else,” Nagra said that during the 2018 election campaign “the people of Surrey knew about this during the campaign. They knew about this – there’s going to be a first-time cost associated with the city, and I believe people are ready to pay.

The draft plan calls for 2.9 per cent residential property tax increase. “We’re keeping it at 2.9, so there’s no increase,” Nagra said. “That’s the Consumer Price Index. There’s no extra this time, no.”

“It’s buying safety for our kids, for our residents,” he said.” They’re going to be more than happy to pay for that. And plus the best part I like about this budget is that no residential taxes are going up, they’re still the same.”

But Pettigrew said he’s “not convinced that even moving to a Surrey police force will make our city a safer place. I still have not seen a plan that shows me that things would be safer under a Surrey police force nor do I believe that all the transitional and operational costs have been factored in.”

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Mandeep Nagra

As for the arts, the capital plan allocates $500,000 in 2023 for the Surrey Little Theatre relocation and $350,000 for renovations of the Surrey Arts Centre in 2022.

While the five-year plan 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.

“It’s absolutely laughable,” said Ellie King, founder of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company. “We’re not even in the game. It’s very disappointing.”

“We have basically one functional arts centre,” she lamented. “I’m speechless. Basically there’s $850,000 until 2023, $500,000 of which is going to a private club, $350,000 of which is going to an already established and well-equipped arts facility. There is absolutely nothing for the creation of new arts spaces of any kind. That, I find, deeply, deeply disappointing.”

The proposed 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.

Here are a list of some of the $133 million in planned capital projects in the budget:

In 2020, $7.15 million is pencilled in for a new YMCA agreement that’s expected to be constructed in the City Centre area, seeing as the North Surrey rec centre is soon to be decommissioned. The city has entered into an agreement to provide $20 million in funding to that new facility, but only $7.15 million is on the books for the next five years in the draft budget.

Also on the books for 2020, if the budget is approved, is $3.3 million to complete the Clayton Community Centre that’s currently under construction, $2 million for renovations and expansions to a field house at Newton Athletic Park and $1 million for a new “Newton Urban Park.”

The five-year plan allocates $800,000 for turf replacement at Hjorth Road Park and $3.7 million for a kabaddi facility in Whalley (including grass field, bleacher and field house). Over the five years the plan oversees, $7.6 million is allocated to Nicomekl Riverfront Park.

Other significant projects planned over the next five years include $10 million for Grandview Heights Community Park & Artificial Turf Field; $4 million to upgrade Unwin Community Park; $6.3 million for an “athletics centre” at Bear Creek Park for a new track and sports field and a “modern 2,200 seat grandstand with covered seating”; as well as $6 million each for a Cricket Pitch & Fieldhouse, an artificial turf field at Fleetwood Athletic Park and for a third field hockey turf field at Tamanawis Park.

Almost $12 million is also budgeted over five years for neighbourhood parks across the city.

Visit surrey.ca to see the full list planned capital projects.

Meantime, the draft plan calls for 2.9 per cent residential property tax increase. This would equate to a $59 increase for the average single-family dwelling, according to budget documents, an increase that staff indicates would “predominately be used to offset increased public safety resourcing and expenditures.”

In addition to the property tax increases, utilities are set to rise also including water (by $19.16 for the average single-family dwelling on a metre), sewer ($15.84), drainage ($2) and solid waste ($8). Together, with the proposed property tax increase, those equate to an increase of roughly $104 for the average single-family home in Surrey.

For the second year in a row, there is no proposed increase to the Roads and Traffic Levy.

The Draft Five Year (2020-2024 Financial Plans (General Operating, Capital and Utilities) public hearing on Monday Dec. 2 will begin a 1 p.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

After the presentation, the public can provide comments. Also, written comments will be considered up to and including Thursday Nov. 28, by 4 p.m. These should be addressed to Chair, Finance Committee, City of Surrey, 13450 104 Avenue Surrey, B.C., V3T 1V8, or by email to clerks@surrey.ca or by fax (604-501-7578).



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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