Another week has gone by – another week with no decision on whether Surrey’s police transition is going ahead.
It’s hard to understand why making a decision promptly is not a higher priority for Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, especially when Surrey taxpayers heard that their taxes were expected to go up by 17.5 per cent this year. At least half of which would go to various costs associated with the police transition.
With increases to user fees, the total addition to taxes and fees paid by residents to the city would be 20.5 per cent – a full one-fifth higher than last year.
After hearing from angry residents at a finance committee meeting Monday afternoon, however, council voted to limit the tax increase to no more than 12.5 per cent. With the user fee increases, that is still 15.5 per cent.
It remains outrageous.
The province is giving Surrey a one-time grant of $89.9 million, as part of its distribution of a portion of the provincial surplus to municipalities. Mayor Brenda Locke says part of that money will be used to reduce the tax increase.
A (slightly lower) tax increase at a time of high inflation, high interest rates and ever-rising costs in most areas of day-to-day life is completely unacceptable. And a Monday afternoon finance committee meeting, at a time when many residents are at work and cannot appear to share their concerns, does not sound like “open government.”
There is little evidence that staff and council have looked hard at areas where some savings can be made. The 2023 budget appears to have been crafted with the standard approach taken in Surrey and many other cities – take last year’s budget, add a percentage for inflation, and add any other one-time costs to it.
Farnworth said immediately after the October municipal election that he needed information quickly from Surrey, so that a fast decision could be made on whether to allow Surrey Police to proceed or to revert to Surrey RCMP (which remains the police agency of record).
He got the information he requested within the set deadline.
Then he wasn’t satisfied, and asked for more from the city, the RCMP and the Surrey Police.
On Jan. 26, Farnworth said he had not yet made a decision.
The first week of March has gone by, and the silence was deafening.
The question many Surrey residents are asking is this: Which level of government is looking out for taxpayers, and doing their best to operate in as lean and efficient manner as possible?
They already have come to expect a disregard for fiscal prudence from Ottawa, but some at least have felt there was a better job being done at the provincial and municipal levels.
Given the actions of recent months, the answer now appears to be “none.”
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.