Surrey taxpayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars spent from cancelling the light rail line through that city after a contentious Mayors' Council meeting Thursday.

Even though TransLink added up the final total of money spent preparing the LRT to $56 million, Metro mayors decided not to leave Surrey with a specific $56 million tab, instead leaving it to a future agreement with Surrey about how the costs may be repaid.

Surrey’s mayor, Doug McCallum, said the city would search for ways to barter with TransLink, such as finding city land that the transportation agency would need to expand the line.

“TransLink’s going to need land for the SkyTrain,” McCallum told reporters afterwards. “So you go into negotiations with land. Part of that $56 million is Bear Creek Bridge which is needed by TransLink for the bus service along King George Highway. That’s a fairly big amount and that will come off the final figure.”

The $56 million was spent designing and building the Surrey-Newton-Guildford line, which is now off track after Surrey voters elected McCallum, who is making good on an election promise to junk the LRT and replace it with a SkyTrain to Langley.

To put things in perspective, the $56 million is about the same price as Surrey’s Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library, which is now on the chopping block in the city’s budget, which will head to city council Monday.

The mayors signed off on motion that would allow TransLink to inch forward to making the switch, allowing the agency to start planning and development work on the SkyTrain.

An amendment from Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart to roll those plans back even further was so close the mayors tied on a weighted vote, with Vancouver, Surrey, the City of Langley, Delta and the Tsawwassen First Nation voting against. A tie was regarded as a defeat for that amendment.

However McCallum’s plan faced other trouble as the mayors wrestled with the fiscal realities. The LRT was budgeted at $1.65 billion; less about $56 million spent the remaining budget leaves just $1.6 billion. TransLink studies suggest a Skytrain to Langley will be $2.6 billion, meaning TransLink is about $1 billion short.

B.C.’s premier said Thursday there’s no way the province will step in to fill the gap.

“I am absolutely delighted to fund the projects we agreed to. If the projects change, the funding will not. The funding will remain the same,” John Horgan said.

“I care not about the technology. If Surrey wants to change to SkyTrain, that’s fine, but they’re going to get half as far as they would have with LRT.”

TransLink staff told the council they may be building the project in stages; the first stage may reach Fleetwood or Clayton Heights.

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said he's still concerned about the $1 billion shortfall, and that he's not comfortable building a line just to Fleetwood, into parkland and farmland which can't easily be developed.

"You're going to have to drop stations down in the middle of Farmer Bob's field and hope people commute from the region to that area to get on this. I don't see this as having a potential business case for that area," he said.