B.C. says promised $150M will be used to support Surrey police transition ‘directly’

The B.C. government says it will use the $150 million it promised the City of Surrey to support the police transition “directly until it is completed.”

Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in an update Tuesday afternoon that “Mayor Brenda Locke and Surrey city council have failed to act in the best interest of the people of Surrey.”

He says the city has rejected the province’s offer of monetary support, despite council advising the minister that it had “agreed in principle to the financial commitment.”

This came after he told reporters earlier in the day that Surrey had until 4 p.m. to accept the funding promised to help further the transition.

“The mayor and council ultimately chose divisiveness and uncertainty,” Farnworth said.

“The City of Surrey decided to reject it. They will have to explain why that they wanted to turn down the offer of the $150 million plus the up to $100 million to deal with the costs associated with the transition. And they’re going to have to explain that to the taxpayers of Surrey — taxpayers of Surrey who want this over, the taxpayers of Surrey who know that a decision has been made, that the law of the province of British Columbia is transitioning to the police service. It’s unfortunate they decided to do that.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Locke says in a statement that the city maintains its position that the province has “provided no firm financial commitment” to remedy the cost for Surrey taxpayers of transitioning to a police force they “did not vote for.”

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The additional money was up to $20 million annually for five more years if SPS salaries end up being more expensive than the RCMP.

Farnworth says this extra cash is now off the table.

“I’m disappointed, absolutely. And I think that the people of Surrey will be disappointed because the people of Surrey want an end to this,” he said.

“In January of this year, the City of Surrey asked the province to negotiate an agreement to help them to complete the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS), resolve the conflict, provide certainty and support the people of Surrey. In the interest of moving forward, we negotiated in good faith to provide the city with the reassurance they told us they needed.”

“Unfortunately, it’s clear that Mayor Locke and Surrey city council would rather drag this out for years to come, instead of working together to do what’s best for people and businesses in Surrey,” Farnworth continued.

But Locke continues to insist the city does not want to transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service.

“This dispute is about the city’s ability to choose its policing model,” Locke stated. “The city’s voters have chosen the RCMP and city council has accordingly resolved to maintain the RCMP as its municipal police force.”

The minister says regardless of the recent development, the transition is continuing, with more details on timelines are expected next week.

“I just think it’s unfortunate that the needs of the people of Surrey, which is to see a safe transition, an end to this, don’t appear to be the priority of the City of Surrey,” he added.

Farnworth says the $150 million will now be used to “support the transition directly until it is completed,” though no further details as to what that would look like were provided. He says more information on this will be provided next week.

“We put solutions on the table to prevent transition-related tax increases and still, the city rejected it,” the minister said Tuesday afternoon.

“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 says both the B.C. government and the Canadian government agreed last month that “the transition plan would not require federal legislative amendments.”

According to Locke, the province continues to avoid addressing critical commitments, like a completion date for the transition, which is why “accepting the offer would be to the detriment of our residents and overall public safety in Surrey.”

“As I’ve said all along, I will stand up for the best interests of our taxpayers. It’s important that the public have all the details, and hear the truth, and I’m glad all will be revealed as court proceedings begin on April 29.”

The five-day hearing will address a B.C. Supreme Court challenge launched by the city to the provincial government’s order to carry out the transition.

Regardless of the apparent impasse, Farnworth stresses the transition away from the RCMP to a municipal force “will continue,” adding the province is looking “forward to announcing the target date of a change of command shortly.”

“We are confident that the province will be successful in the upcoming litigation,” he added.

Surrey budget proposes property tax hike

This comes the same day Locke announced a proposed property tax increase of seven per cent as part of the city’s 2024 budget.

The budget, however, does not include transition costs.

The province says on its website that the money it’s put up is to “help ensure additional costs are not passed to Surrey residents and businesses through high tax increases.”

Despite this, Surrey residents and businesses faced a massive property tax increase in last year’s budget, of 12.5 per cent. Initially, the city proposed a hike of 17.5 per cent, however, Surrey opted to use the Growing Communities Fund — a provincial fund — to bring the increase down.

Most of last year’s tax increase was budgeted to pay for policing services.

-With files from Charlie Carey and Catherine Garrett

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