Surrey rejects police funding deal but transition won’t stop, minister says

Click to play video: 'Surrey rejects provincial funding deal to offset costs of transition to municipal police force'
Surrey rejects provincial funding deal to offset costs of transition to municipal police force
B.C.'s public safety minister and solicitor general says the City of Surrey has rejected a funding deal to help offset the costs of its transition to a municipal police force. Angela Jung reports. – Apr 10, 2024

The City of Surrey has rejected a funding deal to help offset the costs of its transition to a municipal police force, B.C.’s public safety minister and solicitor general says.

Mike Farnworth said the city had approached the province to negotiate the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS) in January, leading to a deal package the province offered with a Tuesday deadline.

On Tuesday, Farnworth said that despite Mayor Brenda Locke indicating last week that the council had agreed in principle to the financial commitment, the city ultimately opted not to take the deal.

Click to play video: 'Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the proposed Surrey police budget is the way forward'
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the proposed Surrey police budget is the way forward

With the rejection, the province has now made the terms of the deal public.

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The agreement would have provided Surrey with a previously reported $150 million over five years to help complete the transition.

On top of that, the province had committed to providing up to $20 million a year for the five years after that should the SPS cost the city more than the RCMP between 2029 and 2034.

“This agreement would have given people certainty that there would be no reason for police-related tax increases for at least a decade,” Farnworth said.

With the deal rejected, Farnworth said the offer was “finished” but that the province will put the original $150 million directly to funding the completion of the police transition.

“Any additional costs that end up getting passed on to the people of Surrey are the result of the failure of the mayor and council,” Farnworth said.

“Although we are disappointed in the actions of the mayor and council, the transition will continue and look forward to announcing the target date of a change of command shortly.”

Click to play video: 'Surrey Police Service chief sets targets for transition'
Surrey Police Service chief sets targets for transition

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke, who was elected on a promise to scrap the police transition, released a statement late Tuesday saying the city “does not agree with the representations in the Minister’s statement.”

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Locke said the city had engaged in “without prejudice” discussions with the province “as is customary in litigation.”

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“It is the City’s position that the Province provided no firm financial commitment that would provide redress to Surrey taxpayers for the full cost of transitioning to a police force they did not vote for,” the statement reads.

Locke said the province had refused several reasonable commitments necessary to ensure an effective transition, including developing a plan or completion date for the transition.

Speaking on CKNW’s The Jas Johal Show earlier Tuesday she said she didn’t recall the city initiating the negotiations with the province.

“I know that our council has voted several times and has been consistent, so I don’t know that to be true,” she said.

Locke said the city remains focused on an April 29 court challenge of provincial legislation ordering it to complete the transition.

“So I’m still hopeful that we are going to keep the RCMP in Surrey,” she said. “That is, the desire of our city, and that is the desire of our council.”

Farnworth said it was “unbelievable” Locke would not have been aware the city had initiated negotiations, adding the province was “very confident” in its position regarding the court challenge.

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He went on to hint the province could have an update on a timeline for a change of command from the RCMP to the SPS as early as next week.

Surrey budget presumes RCMP

The minister’s comments came the same day Surrey unveiled its 2024 municipal budget, which projects a 7-per cent property tax increase, worth about $177 to the average single-family home.

That budget, however, is predicated on the city keeping the RCMP.

Locke told reporters earlier Tuesday that the budget includes a set amount for “adequate and effective policing” with a force of 785 officers.

“If we are mandated to continue with the police transition, we are facing an increased cost of a half a billion dollars or more over the next decade, compared to the cost of the RCMP,” she said.

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“If we find ourselves in that position, I will be doing an update in the fall on where we are financially. But it does mean … significant dollars to the taxpayer.”

Click to play video: 'Surrey Police Service proposed budget'
Surrey Police Service proposed budget

Locke alleged that anticipated costs from the SPS transition had forced council to pause a variety of planned capital projects, including a welcome centre, a pool for Whaley and a redevelopment of the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.

She further suggested taxpayers could face a property tax hike in the ballpark of 12 per cent in 2025 if the transition goes ahead.

The SPS presented its own budget in January, projecting costs of $141.5 million, with a goal of fielding 526 officers by the end of the year.

Surrey Coun. Linda Annis, an opponent of the mayor on the policing file, questioned Locke’s numbers on the transition costs.

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“We need to make sure we have real numbers in there. The mayor was saying just over a year ago there was going to be a one-time tax increase of 55 per cent,” she said.

“We know that wasn’t true, we saw the numbers in the SPS budget for 2024, and with the budget they presented there really was no tax increase.”

Annis said the decision on policing has already been made and that residents want officials to “get on with it” and start focusing on the growing city’s other needs.

More to come…

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