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Surrey Mayor warns 55% property tax hike coming if Farnworth gives Surrey Police Service thumbs up

Coun. Linda Annis, of Surrey First, calls Brenda Locke’s statements a ‘scare tactic’
Surrey mayor-elect Brenda Locke and B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. (File photos)

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke is warning that Surrey residents can expect a one-time property tax increase of 55 per cent if the Surrey Police Service gets the green light from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth later this month to forge ahead in the transition from the Surrey RCMP to a city-made police force.

But her rivals on council are dubious about that.

“That is wrong information, that is not true,” Coun. Mandeep Nagra, of the Safe Surrey Coalition, said Friday. “It’s just another try, maybe the last try, to keep the RCMP in Surrey. I think this is the final tactic that they’re playing.”

If a 55 per cent tax hike is true, he added, “how come it was not presented in the report that was presented to the council by the city staff?”

“It should have been mentioned in the report that was sent to the province and that was presented to the council, but we didn’t see that number there.”

Citing a staff report that it’s estimated to cost $235 million more to go this route instead of maintaining the RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction, Locke said this “outrageous” tax hike would be required, on top of whatever tax rate city council arrives at, to fill the gap.

“It is absolutely what that $235 million looks like,” the Surrey Connect mayor said Friday. “This is huge, I mean, this is outrageous.”

READ ALSO ZYTARUK: Let’s make Farnworth’s call a Waterloo for long-fought Surrey policing war

Coun. Linda Annis, of Surrey First, called Locke’s statements a “scare tactic.

“It’s muddying the waters because at the last council meeting (Dec. 12) city staff presented a report that had 40 different assumptions of what the costs are,” Annis said. “We don’t know what the real costs are. You know the city has one set, Surrey Police Service has another, there seems to be so many variables. We can’t possibly make a statement saying that we’re going to have that kind of a tax increase because we don’t know the numbers.”

Locke said budget consultation will be done “throughout the city” in the latter part of January. “So we’ll be talking to the public directly about those issues but that’s what this impact has on our budget. The $235 million is what we have to find, and that is how we have to find it, with the tax increase.”

That means average single-family households would be hit with a $1,200 tax increase for 2023, she said. “On the business side of it, for an average business it’s $7,700. These are really, really significant increases.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, expects if that’s the case, “number one, businesses won’t stay in Surrey with that type of a tax increase.”

Locke said “this is what we know today.

“This is conservative, this is really on the low side,” she told the Now-Leader. “Now that’s conservative for this year – we don’t know the impact moving forward because the challenge for us is that the Surrey Police Service has not provided the city with their human resource plan, they haven’t provided us with the balance of their capital plan.”

“This is what happens when you don’t do a feasibility study,” Locke said. “It’s also part of the challenge with dealing with the police board, they keep saying local accountability, we’re finding out it’s anything but local accountability. They’re accountable only to the police board and only to the province, certainly not to the City of Surrey and certainly not to the taxpayer.”

Coun. Doug Elford, of the Safe Surrey Coalition, said Friday he’s “surprised” by Locke’s comments “because we haven’t even sat down and had a budget meeting yet. So we haven’t even discussed the budget as a council so I’m not quite sure where all this information is coming from.”

He expects that first budget meeting to take place in a week or so.

“I have no idea where those numbers are coming from and the justification for it,” Elford said. “Again, we’re supposed to, according to the mayor, be more transparent with our budget and go out, and the decision hasn’t even been made yet. So how can we discuss budgets when we don’t even know what direction we’re going to be going yet?”

The next Surrey Police Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25. Meantime, Locke expects Farnworth will reveal his decision in “mid to the third week” of January, “I am hopeful.

“But they know that this has big cost implications so I have talked with staff in Victoria and they know the cost implications are significant so they’re making sure that it’s dealt with as fast as they can.”

Locke noted the city can’t do its budget until this policing matter gets sorted out one way or the other.

Huberman said of the policing transition, “the way that it is and has been constructed, there’s no accountability for public safety and I really fear for the future of the city if the Surrey Police Service is what Minister Farnworth decides is that our public safety infrastructure should be.”

Norm Lipinski, Chief Constable of the SPS, said he believes Locke’s assertion of a 55 per cent tax increase is “not only inaccurate, but intended to confuse residents and business owners.

“As previously stated by SPS, a number of financial assumptions were used in the City’s Plan to Retain the RCMP as the Police of Jurisdiction in Surrey in order to arrive at an inflated cost ($235M) of the transition over the next five years. These assumptions included a nine-month pause in the transition which has not been previously contemplated by any party, and an assertion that the transition would take another five years, which is also inconsistent with previous discussions with the three levels of government. It is also unclear why a municipality would ask its residents to pay for costs that would be incurred over a five-year period, in just one year,” Lipinski said Friday.

“I am deeply concerned that Mayor Locke continues to use financial assumptions to inflate the cost of Surrey’s transition to a municipal police service. The costs to terminate the transition and almost 400 employees (estimated at over $200M including sunk costs) are also not mentioned in the Mayor’s statement.

“It is important that we all allow the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General the appropriate time and space to make a measured and thoughtful decision on this most consequential matter, without political influence,” Lipinski said.

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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