'It's not acceptable': Public safety concerns raised over Surrey's draft budget
Published Monday, December 2, 2019 9:02AM PST Last Updated Tuesday, December 3, 2019 8:03AM PST
SURREY -- People living in Surrey are raising public safety concerns about the city's draft budget, which will see millions spent moving Surrey towards a municipal police force but would not see any new RCMP officers or firefighters for the coming year.
Public consultations on Surrey's five-year draft budget for 2020 to 2024 took place Monday afternoon. Applause broke out on occasion at a well-attended public meeting with the city's finance committee at city hall, though Mayor Doug McCallum initially tried to discourage that kind of enthusiastic response to some of the speakers.
There was also an emotional plea from Darlene Bennett, whose husband Paul was shot and killed in their driveway last summer in a case of mistaken identity. His murder remains unsolved.
"We do not need a new police force. We need adequate resources now," Bennett said, calling the financial plan "a poorly thought-out political dream."
"Isn't that what this budget supports? That the citizens of Surrey are expendable? That the creation of a municipal police force comes at the expense of human life? It's not acceptable now, and it never will be."
Mark McRae with the Surrey Firefighters Association warned council response times will grow without additional resources.
"Over the last 10 years, we've seen growth of over 100,000 people to our city, with a significant portion being in north Surrey, and we have only added two firefighters on duty to protect them 24 hours a day," McRae said. "This is about public safety and the safety of our firefighters."
The proposed budget currently has $129.6 million over the next five years allocated towards transitioning the police force, which was a key promise in McCallum's election campaign last year. That pledge hinged on the premise that the community would be better served by a new department than it has been by the RCMP.
The province gave Surrey the green light to transition from the RCMP to its own municipal police force back in August.
However, results from a survey released in September showed 54 per cent of residents polled were opposed to the idea of switching to a local police force.
The city's current contract with the RCMP expires in March 2021 and the Surrey Police Force is expected to be up and running in April 2021.
Coun. Brenda Locke said the results line up with what she's heard from locals.
"I've been out and about in Surrey a lot and hearing nothing but complaints about this transition," Locke said in September. "I'm hearing (that people) don't believe the mayor's comments that the public wants this."
Coun. Linda Annis said the police force transition also overshadows other items in the budget.
"We're giving up recreation centres, community centres, all the amenities that residents of Surrey should have, and should expect to have," said Annis.
A spokesperson for McCallum said the mayor would not be commenting until after the budget comes to council Monday evening.
If the budget is approved at Monday evening's council meeting, a final vote will be held Dec. 16.