Critics dispute Surrey mayor's claim that police transition would lead to 55% tax hike

Surrey is currently in the process of transitioning from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service, but the city's new mayor says the transition should be halted, and a steep tax increase would result if it's not. Critics dispute her claim. (Surrey Police Service/Handout and Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Surrey is currently in the process of transitioning from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service, but the city's new mayor says the transition should be halted, and a steep tax increase would result if it's not. Critics dispute her claim. (Surrey Police Service/Handout and Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

Mayor Brenda Locke said Friday that Surrey would need a one-time tax increase of 55 per cent if the transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service is not stopped.

However, the Surrey Police Service, as well as a city councillor, both said the claim is inaccurate and that Locke was using inflated budgetary numbers to make her case.

The city voted to keep the RCMP after a contentious municipal election made the police transition — started in 2020 under previous mayor Doug McCallum — a defining issue for B.C.'s second-largest city. Locke cast the tie-breaking vote in a 5-4 split in council on Nov. 14.

city staff report in November estimated the city would save $235 million over five years if the transition to a municipal force was stopped. On Friday, Locke claimed a one-time tax increase of 55 per cent — over existing tax rates — to recover the "funding gap" that the transition would cause.

"It is abundantly clear that a switch to the Surrey Police Service would create an untenable financial burden for Surrey taxpayers during these challenging economic times," reads a statement from Locke.

"Given the economic hardship facing Surrey taxpayers, if the transition continues and the fact that the City needs to finalize its budget, it is vital that the province move quickly to endorse Council's decision to retain the RCMP."

Locke told CBC News that the 55 per cent figure was "extrapolated" from the city staff report, and the increase would apply to both residential and business taxpayers. She said the figure was actually a "conservative" one.

"For an average house ... that looks like $1,200 for the first year," she said. "For a business, it's about $7,700 ... it will be applied. For cities, we must balance our budgets."

Despite Locke's assertion that the transition would result in a tax increase, the city staff report does not specifically mention that transitioning to a municipal police force would itself result in higher taxes.

Ben Nelms/CBC, Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press
Ben Nelms/CBC, Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press

The ultimate decision on whether the transition is halted is still in the hands of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. In a statement, Farnworth said he hoped to release a decision "as soon as feasible early this year."

"I am in receipt of the City of Surrey's plan to return fully to the RCMP," he said. "I am also in receipt of the B.C. RCMP's staffing plan, as well as a report on the status of the transition from the Surrey Police Service.

"Ministry assessment of these plans and reports, as well as advice and recommendations by the director of police services, will inform my decision."

Municipal force disputes claims

The Surrey Police Service, which is already partially operational and had over 300 officers, said Locke's claim was intended to confuse residents.

In a statement, Chief Norm Lipinski said Locke was making "financial assumptions" to inflate the costs and savings of the police transition.

"These assumptions included a nine-month pause in the transition, which has not been previously contemplated by any party," Lipinski said, adding that no previous reports have estimated the transition from the RCMP to the SPS would take five years.

The force's own report, issued in December, said the force could be fully operational with more than 700 officers by mid-2024 if the transition continued apace.

"The costs to terminate the transition and almost 400 employees (estimated at over $200 million including sunk costs) are also not mentioned in the mayor's statement," Lipinski said.

Linda Annis, a Surrey city councillor from the Surrey First party, said Locke's assertion was "fearmongering" that continued to confuse matters around the transition.

"We have numbers from the SPS, the RCMP and the city, and these multiple versions continue to leave Surrey taxpayers on the sideline and in the dark about the real facts," she said in a statement.

Annis told CBC News that there should be an independent review of the costs around the transition. She also reiterated her stance from the October municipal election that there should be a referendum on the issue.

Ousted mayor Doug McCallum also condemned Locke's Friday statement, saying her proposed tax hike was "fabricated" and a bully tactic.