Surrey’s mayor says the city may need to draft two separate budgets amid the uncertainty over the future of its police force.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the province would need more information and more time in order to decide whether to proceed with the transition to the Surrey Police Service or to disband the fledgling force and keep the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction.
Farnworth did not provide a timeline for the final decision, only saying he would like to see it done “as expeditiously as possible.”
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said the lack of answers has thrown a wrench in the city’s budgeting process.
“It’s nigh on impossible for us to do an accurate budget to be frank with you. What we could do, and what I was considering, was that we actually present two budgets. One with the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction, and one for the move foreword (with the SPS),” she told Global’s Focus BC.
“And I can tell you it will be a stark reality for not only our residents, for our city in general. To see what that looks like, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Locke was elected in last October’s municipal election on a pledge to scrap the police transition, and has maintained the city has the authority to keep the RCMP.
According to the City of Surrey’s numbers, completing the transition to the municipal force would cost just under $1.2 billion between 2023 and 2027 while retaining the RCMP would cost $924.8 million.
Locke has previously claimed that making up that difference would result in a one-time 55-per cent tax hike for residents.
The City of Surrey, the Surrey Police Service and the Surrey RCMP all submitted reports to the province laying out their position on the policing issue in December.
At a press conference Thursday, Farnworth said his ministry needed more information from the city about SPS demobilization and the number of RCMP officers it would need to re-staff. It also wants information about re-staffing from the Mounties, along with more details on anticipated growth within the RCMP.
And Farnworth said the province needs information from the SPS on strategies for remaining areas of work to become the police of jurisdiction.
He further stressed that a key issue was ensuring that whatever the outcome, the decision did not affect policing levels across the province.
Locke said she was still not entirely clear on what, specifically, the ministry is looking for.
Read more: Surrey taxpayers face large property tax increase if police transition continues, mayor says
However, she said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki had personally assured her the national force would “do everything in their power to ensure that Surrey has those (staffing) numbers, has them available to Surrey, but absolutely to all of British Columbia.”
A previous report by the City of Surrey found that if the SPS was scrapped, the Surrey RCMP would need to bring on another 161 members to maintain its funded staffing contingent of 734 officers.
The Surrey Police Union has suggested that if the SPS was to be disbanded, few of its members would patch over to the RCMP, citing a survey of members that reported 94 per cent would say no to the RCMP.
The National Police Federation — the RCMP union — said Friday that it was confident there would be no issue recruiting.
“The NPF has been working closely and effectively with the RCMP to enhance and streamline recruitment processes. The joint NPF and RCMP effort has reduced the average application time to under nine months and is currently attracting 800 to 900 new applicants to the RCMP every month, which we believe could result in a record-setting year,” it said.
“We also recently signed an Agreement with the RCMP to ensure that Experienced Police Officers’ previous service will be recognized in calculating their annual leave when they join the RCMP, making a move to the RCMP even more desirable for current serving police officers across Canada.”
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The SPS, for its part, told Global News Friday it would not weigh in while the matter was still under consideration.
“We won’t be commenting on the province’s update,” it said in a statement.
“We feel the Minister and government should be given time and space to make the decision free of continued conflict.”
In its own statement Thursday, the Surrey Police Board said it was disappointed the decision had been delayed, but that it appreciated the province’s work in “trying to move this process forward as quickly as possible, recognizing a final decision will have implications not only for Surrey but also the entire province.”