Surrey city council has approved a divisive budget that does not include funding for any new police officers or firefighters.
Council approved the measure in a five-four vote Monday night, after a meeting that drew critics and protesters.
Following the vote, shouts of “shame!” could be heard in the council chambers.
“This is the best budget I have seen in the nine years I have spent as mayor,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum told reporters following the vote.
Prior to the meeting, Surrey Coun. Linda Annis predicted she and her fellow councillors would be met with angry residents.
“I think many of the residents are very concerned that so much money is going into the proposed Surrey Police Department,” she said. “In my mind, it’s not a good plan.”
No new RCMP officers or firefighters will be hired next year according to the budget, which the city says is due to the costs needed for the police transition.
That transition plan will include a one-time cost of $45.2 million in 2020, on top of $84.4 million for “additional operating costs” spread out over the next five years.
The draft budget says even a federally-mandated 2.5 per cent salary bump for RCMP members — which totals $1.53 million — could be reduced if the police transition happens earlier than expected.
The budget also includes a hiring freeze for city staff, outside of ensuring soon-to-open civic facilities like the Clayton Heights Community Centre are adequately staffed.
In its report, city staff note the proposed hiring freeze is “not a long term sustainable strategy,” and further adjustments may have to made through 2020 “if service delivery demands increase beyond what has been anticipated.”
Other planned civic facilities like the Cloverdale Ice Complex will continue to be on hold through 2020, according to the new plan.
Annis says putting the police transition plan ahead of new infrastructure and community spaces is a huge mistake.
“We shouldn’t be putting all of our available funding into a police force that may or may not come to fruition at the expense of all the infrastructure,” she said.
“There’s no recreation centres, no ice rinks, no arts facilities, no nothing being built, which is very troubling to me. Some of our infrastructure, including road improvements, aren’t taking place either.”
But Annis is even more concerned about proposals to keep RCMP and firefighter staffing levels where they’ve now been stagnant for years.
In its report, staff note the city needs to start planning for future requests from the fire department to fund growth, calling it “necessary for continued effective delivery of service.”
“We’re not only putting the residents of Surrey at risk, but we’re also putting our firefighters and RCMP who are serving us at risk as well,” she said.
According to Annis, Surrey only has one firefighter for every 1,500 residents, compared to one for every 800 residents in Vancouver.
With Surrey now 85 per cent the size of Vancouver and growing at a rate of more than 10,000 residents annually, Annis says the city needs at least 300 more police officers on the street right now. Vancouver has roughly 1,450 police officers compared to Surrey’s 843 RCMP members.
The councillor is also critical of Mayor Doug McCallum’s pledge to not raise property taxes beyond the cost of living. The draft budget reflects that promise, meaning taxes will only go up by 2.9 per cent in 2020.
While she doesn’t think Surrey should follow the lead of the City of Vancouver — which is considering raising taxes by 8.2 per cent — she thinks taxes should still go up slightly to help pay for more services beyond just a new police force.
“I wouldn’t want to see an increase as high as Vancouver, but we need to be planning for the future,” she said.
Annis said she’s hopeful McCallum and council listen to the public Monday afternoon and take their concerns into consideration.
“I think it’s really important to listen to the people who voted us in, and if this isn’t what they want we should go back to the drawing board,” she said.