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Surrey mayor says police, like all city departments, need to get in line for budget asks

‘I cannot impose this budget on the city,” Mike Serr, Surrey Police Board administrator, concedes

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke questions why the Surrey Police Service bothered to stage a press event Thursday concerning the provisional budget for 2024 it submitted to the City of Surrey on Nov. 30. She says the police, like every other city department, need to get in line for their budget proposals to be considered by the finance committee.

“I have no idea why they called that meeting,” Locke told the Now-Leader on Friday. “It is exactly the same budget they gave us in November, they know that we’re going through our budgeting process, we don’t do anything independently of another and just like any city, we’re going through our budgeting process and they can come speak to us or speak to it at the public hearing if they choose. That’s their option, there’s no decision made, Mr. Serr knows that.

Surrey Police Board administrator Mike Serr unveiled details of the Surrey Police Service’s provisional budget for 2024 on Thursday, Jan. 25 in light of increased confusion over how many millions of dollars are involved in the city’s policing transition, now in its sixth year.

“To this day we have not heard whether our budget has been accepted yet,” Serr said. “I’m hopeful that we can have this budget approved and move forward because any delays delays the transition moving forward, and those delays to the transition can be expensive for the city of Surrey.”

Meantime, it’s costing Surrey taxpayers $8 million per month to keep the RCMP and SPS running simultaneously. A majority of Surrey council is opposed to the RCMP being replaced by the SPS. Serr said he hopes this submitted budget will give council “confidence in the numbers associated with moving this transition forward.

“It is my hope that this transparent budget process will give clarity, that it will given comfort to the residents, to the businesses of Surrey,” he said.

Locke acknowledged that “this is their wish-list for their budget, just like every other department within the city. Whether its parks or engineering or planning, they all present their budgets to the city to make a decision and that’s exactly what they did and it’s the same one, as I said, that they did in November so I am truly unclear why they felt it necessary to do a media availability for it. It surprised me, and it made no sense.

“They have to do just the same as everybody else and we are operating two police departments right now and so they have to be cognizant of that as well. So there was nothing new.”

For Serr’s part, he said he believes the public has a right to know what the SPS requires in 2024.

“This budget is dependent on the winding down of the Surrey RCMP to complement the growth of SPS. In order to contain costs, we need to work with our partners in the RCMP and the City of Surrey on eliminating the overlap in administrative costs that come with having two police agencies working within the city.”

Locke maintains they’re “trying to confuse the 2023 budget and the fact that they were so over budget in 2023 with the reality of the new budget, which is 2024. I think there was a little bit of deliberate confusion around the two budgeting processes.”

READ ALSO: Locke’s political rivals slam $500k PR campaign against Surrey policing transition

Following a technical briefing for media, Serr held a presser to break down the details of the $142M provisional budget for 2024. He said the city’s total available funds for policing in 2024 is $337M.

Serr said if SPS 2024 provisional budget is approved by city council it would be constitute 42 per cent of funds available to Surrey for policing this year. This includes $30 million from the provincial government ($150 million over five years).

Under SPS operations, $102,761,570 is for salaries and expenditures and $16,758,285 is for “other operating expenditures,” for a total $119,519,855 for total SPS operations. Equipment and capital expenditures are marked at $6,636,383 and $15,354,815 is for the Policing Transition Project Fund, for a grand total ask of $141,511,053 for 2024. In 2020, the City of Surrey earmarked $63.68 million as a one-time capital project fund for the transition, intended to support the SPS’s startup costs and build IT infrastructure required the SPS to replace the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction, which Serr expects will occur within two and a half years.

Seventy-two per cent of the provincial budget is for salaries and benefits. Twelve per cent is for other operating costs, with $5.99 million for IT maintenance and contractors, $1.2 million for fees to train recruits, and $2.25 million related to the vehicle fleet, with 42 already purchased and 25 more to be bought in 2024. The remaining 16 per cent is for other equipment including uniforms, firearms and ammo, and the policing transition project fund.

Serr said the SPS’s “assumed” deployment for 2024 is to see 203 more SPS officers deployed, to a total of 408, with a hiring target of 180 sworn officers – 45 recruits and 135 experienced officers – to a strength of 526 by the end of 2024, “making up approximately 67 per cent of the city’s targeted police staffing number of 785 in 224.” It also calls for 23 more civilian staffers to be hired, to a total of 81 by the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Serr says provisional budget will give Surrey council ‘confidence’ to move ahead with SPS

READ ALSO: Surrey city manager enters SPS budget deficit drama

READ ALSO: Surrey Police board, union slam mayor for ‘erroneous’ budget deficit claims

Serr said he has until March 1 to make any additions or changes to the provisional budget and the City of Surrey has until May 15 under the Community Charter Act to approve and finalize its 2024 general budget. “I cannot impose this budget on the city.”

He added he has the ability, if council doesn’t approve the SPS’s provisional budget, to ask the director of police service “for that to be adjudicated,” but he has to wait until the city provides its response. “I am hoping we can resolve this between the board and the city, and work together. But I do have that opportunity in the Spring.”

“I can’t ever say it’s foregone conclusion,” Serr said. “It was made law that the SPS transition is to move forward, that SPS is to be the police of jurisdiction. I have full confidence in these numbers.”

Coun. Linda Annis says the SPS budget ask should be approved.

“Mayor Locke has had the budget since November and has not made an effort to deal with it, so making the budget public gives our community the numbers that taxpayers need to better understand the transition process that is underway,” Annis said Thursday. “The budget presented by the SPS makes sense and fits within the overall policing envelope we have for our city. Running two police departments costs our taxpayers time and money, and we need to get on with this transition which the province has made law. The SPS is becoming the police department here in Surrey, so let’s get on with it and build the very best police service.”

Asked what he’ll do if Surrey council doesn’t capitulate, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Thursday told reporters “I personally don’t get involved. There are legislative procedures and protocols that are in place that are set in law and policy as to how budgetary issues around policing are in fact dealt with. So for example there’s Section 27 of the Police Act and if there’s a dispute in the budget that can be referred to the director of police services, has authority to make a decision based on based on the submissions received by, you know, the city as well as the police.”

Farnworth said the SPS provisional budget for 2024 “can proceed in a way that doesn’t impact the taxpayers of Surrey, which has been something that the mayor has been concerned about.”

“This idea that there needs to be a tax increase because of the transition, the budget shows the path forward in a way that is responsible, respectful of Surrey’s budgeting – their three-year fiscal plan as it relates to policing – and that there’s not a need for more tax increases which the mayor has been talking about.”

In December the city launched a $500,000 PR campaign against the “NDP police transition” that includes social media posts, a direct-mail householder, and electronic billboard displays that, under the heading “NDP police transition WILL COST YOU MORE,” claims it will cost $464 million more over the next 10 years, and forecasts a MASSIVE DOUBLE-DIGIT tax increase meaning LESS $ for schools, health and transit.

READ ALSO: No ‘parade of witnesses’ in Surrey’s cop transition court case

Meantime, Locke expects in February a court date will be set for the City of Surrey’s petition seeking a judicial review of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s decree the Surrey Police Service will police the city. Locke announced in November that the city is challenging in B.C. Supreme Court the ‘constitutionality’ of the provincial government’s decision to replace the Surrey RCMP with the Surrey Police Service.

“I find it disappointing that both Mr. Serr and the solicitor general are not being respectful of the courts,” Locke said. “They know that this issue is before the courts and I think it’s disappointing that they aren’t respecting that process. We don’t have a date yet, but like all things legal we have a date to make a date. So we do have that, and I believe it’s in the beginning of February. So the process is underway, they know that full well, and I would just ask that they respect the courts and respect the process.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

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