Surrey’s draft budget, which makes no allowances for more police officers or firefighters and instead focuses on the city’s transition to a municipal police force, puts the safety and security of residents in jeopardy, according to a resident whose husband was murdered last year.
Darlene Bennett’s husband Paul, a nurse and hockey coach, was the unintended victim of a shooting outside of their home. She said the city doesn’t need a new police force — it needs more resources, now.
“I cannot fathom a reason why this government would wilfully put lives in danger, that they would choose to inflict trauma and pain on another human being, that they morally have no problem creating more victims,” Bennett said in an impassioned presentation. “Isn’t that what the budget supports, that the citizens of Surrey are expendable? That the creation of a municipal police force comes at the expense of human life?”
Bennett was one of about two dozen Surrey residents who spoke against the proposed budget at a finance committee meeting on Monday afternoon, calling it short-sighted and unsustainable. Only one speaker was in full support.
Some accused Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition councillors of ignoring the interests of the city in pursuit of their own agenda, and of shutting out residents.
The 2020 draft budget calls for a residential property tax increase of 2.9 per cent, or $59 for the average single-family home.
Most new spending in the budget is devoted to one-time policing transition and capital costs to take the city from being policed by the RCMP to its own Surrey Police Department, which is supposed to be up and running by April 1, 2021.
The budget includes $25.2 million set aside for the Surrey police, plus $700,000 for a transition office. Over the course of the five-year financial plan, there will be $84.4 million in operating costs and $45.2 million in capital, including a 15-per-cent contingency, and one-time transition costs, including contingencies, for a total of $129.6 million.
As a result of the increased policing costs, there will be no additional officers for the RCMP. It’s the second budget in a row that has not increased the number of police officers in the city.
Peter Green, a Guildford resident, asked council to reconsider the budget because the city needs more police officers now, a feeling that was echoed by many.
“It’s very frustrating to be a taxpayer in this city right now and listen to these glorious plans that you’re probably going to push ahead because you appear to be a stubborn man,” Gerald Henri told McCallum. “You have a great vision, but we don’t share it with you.”
Surrey Fire Service will also see its numbers stagnate thanks to the policing focus.
Mark McRae, president of the Surrey Fire Fighters Association, said the need for more resources is a matter of public safety and the safety of firefighters, and delaying will put the city further behind. He said the department has 364 professional firefighters — half as many as Vancouver — and they have to do more with less every year.
“Seconds matter,” he said, pausing. “Seconds matter. It is important to share that, because as we move forward with this budget as it’s currently drafted, the time it takes for fire to respond will be negatively impacted.”
Speakers also decried the lack of new support for the arts and sports and recreation infrastructure.
Surrey Little Theatre artistic director Margaret Shearman thanked council for the funds it has already allocated to help the theatre move in three years, while also urging them to put more into performing arts and arts in general.
“The arts are an investment, deserving of more support and consideration from you, the council the public that has voted into office,” Shearman said.
The city plans to allocate just $850,000 to capital spending on the arts over five years.
Although the city will continue with infrastructure projects to which it has already committed, such as a community centre in Clayton and an athletics centre at Bear Creek Park, and maintain what it has, there is little new investment over the next five years. Projects that were cancelled in the last budget have not been reinstated, or will receive minor funding over the next five years.
Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association treasurer Tony Miles said he would personally pay more taxes if he knew that more services were on the way.
“What I’m asking of you today is that when the budget goes to council and you’re taking it through first, second and third readings, please consider the things that aren’t being addressed, the things that you’ve heard today. Please send it back to staff,” he said.
Merle Scott, one of the organizers of a petition to keep the RCMP in Surrey, said there is nothing of substance for public safety, for infrastructure, or anything else in the budget.
“Any sane person reviewing this budget could only come to the same conclusion as myself — that this is a nothing budget,” said Scott.
The committee, which is comprised of all council members, voted 5-4 — with all non-Safe Surrey Coalition councillors opposed — to send the budget to Monday night’s council meeting for a vote on the first three readings.
Coun. Steven Pettigrew called the budget “a disaster” that will hurt the residents now and for years to come.
“This entire budget exists and breathes for one purpose, and that’s to support our transition,” Pettigrew said.
Coun. Brenda Locke said the city’s infrastructure is “seriously lacking on many fronts.”
“This budget is predicated on police transition which is not much more than words on paper at this point,” she said. “This is an absolute gutting of our city.”
If the first three readings pass, the final vote on the budget will take place on Dec. 16.