Surrey Board of Trade worried about taxes in 2024 as city pays for 2 police forces

Click to play video: 'Concerns about cost of Surrey policing transition'
Concerns about cost of Surrey policing transition
The Surrey Board of Trade is warning about a potential huge hike in residential and business taxes due to uncertainty over the police transition timeline, as the city continues to pay for two forces. Janet Brown reports – Oct 5, 2023

Surrey’s leading business advocate has penned a letter to B.C.’s public safety minister, worried about the possibility of tax hikes next year as the city pays for two police forces.

The Surrey Board of Trade is asking Mike Farnworth to articulate a clear plan for advancing second-stage implementation of the Surrey Police Service (SPS) and phasing out the RCMP — a move he ordered in July against mayor and council’s wishes.

“Surrey residents and businesses need a solid policing strategy with adequate wrap-around support services and infrastructure,” states the letter from Board of Trade president Anita Huberman.

“A new police force will impact business taxation. It is always businesses that bear the brunt of increased taxation.”

Click to play video: 'One-on-one with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke'
One-on-one with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke

Last month, a report from City of Surrey municipal staff claimed there is “no clear plan or any supporting documents in place” for the city to carry out Farnworth’s instructions to proceed with the SPS.

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Among the missing items, the report noted — a joint human resources plan to guide deployments and demobilization, confirmed plans for asset sharing and transfer of files between forces, legal frameworks that would support the RCMP working under the command of a municipal police department, and more.

Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining both police departments in Surrey is an estimated $8 million per month.

An independent report commissioned by the province further found that keeping the SPS would cost Surrey taxpayers about $30 million more per year than keeping the RCMP, which is federally subsidized.

Farnworth has offered $150 million to the City of Surrey to support its transition to the SPS, but that number is expected to fall short of the need. As of June 30, year-to-date, the SPS had already cost the municipality $34.5 million in expenditures.

In a Thursday interview, Farnworth disputed claims there is “no plan” for the SPS transition, stating that a Phase 1 and Phase 2 plan both exist. The first phase has been reinstated now that a final decision on the transition has been made, he added.

“The Phase 2 always intended that the issues identified in (Phase 1) would be worked on by the federal government, the RCMP, the province and the city,” Farnworth said. “Any delays are coming from the City of Surrey.”

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The minister has previously estimated it could take 18 months to complete the full SPS transition.

Click to play video: 'Locke chairs tense Surrey Police Board meeting'
Locke chairs tense Surrey Police Board meeting

In July, after many months of back-and-forth, Farnworth ordered the city to phase out the RCMP amid concerns that replenishing it could tighten resources in places where Mounties are in short supply. He said Surrey failed to prove it could keep the RCMP without compromising safety elsewhere.

A strategic implementation advisor, Jessica McDonald, has been appointed to support Surrey and the province with dispute resolution, communication and meeting timelines, as the two parties continue to butt heads over the transition.

Locke campaigned in October 2022 on a promise to return the RCMP to the police of jurisdiction in Surrey, reversing the course laid out by her predecessor. While she initially supported the creation of the SPS as a councillor, she backtracked within two years, citing transparency concerns and the taxpayer burden.

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She fought vehemently to keep the RCMP, even after a provincial report recommended Surrey keep the SPS in April.

Locke repeated her claim Thursday that she has yet to see a “plan” from the province for the transition, but said dialogue between both groups is ongoing. She said she has asked Farnworth for the plan he says he has.

“It makes budgeting for 2024 nigh on impossible. As everybody knows, policing is one of the biggest parts of any city’s budget,” Locke told Global News.

“As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t moved one iota (on the transition). That is a concern, and I think what’s more of a concern is that there just doesn’t seem to be any communication between the Surrey Police Service and the City of Surrey.”

Click to play video: 'Farnworth and Locke meet over future of Surrey policing'
Farnworth and Locke meet over future of Surrey policing

In a Thursday letter to the mayor, however, B.C.’s director of police services outlined “a lack of engagement” from the municipality and various actions that have taken place to facilitate the transition since July.

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Glen Lewis writes that McDonald, the implementation advisor, has held nearly 50 engagement meetings to date with Locke, municipal staff, key parties, subject matter experts, and stakeholders. All three levels of government have further taken part in several trilateral meetings, he adds.

Lewis cites a “lack of leadership” from mayor and council.

Huberman at the board of trade, meanwhile, decried the lack of “public comments or materials” that have been released to “highlight the work done thus far,” particularly since McDonald’s appointment.

“We are deeply concerned with the lack of transparency and communication,” she wrote.

“Furthermore, the Surrey Police Board’s webpage does not indicate a clearly defined plan for Phase 2 of implementation. The transition began in early 2019 and continued until 2022 when the new council was appointed.

“It has been four years since the beginning of the transition, and Phase 1 has not been completed, and there is no plan for Phase 2.”

The SPS’s draft budget is due at the municipality by Nov. 30. Locke said she wouldn’t speculate on a possible tax increase for residents and businesses until she has that information, and more details from the B.C. government.

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