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Spending $500K on policing transition during pandemic a ‘waste,’ Surrey council hears

City council on a five-to-four vote authorized $500K for Surrey Police Department IT upgrades

Members of the Safe Surrey Coalition slate, led by Mayor Doug McCallum, approved spending roughly $500,000 on IT database upgrades and maintenance support related to the city’s transition from the RCMP to its own city police force.

It was done on a five-to-four split vote Monday, after opposing council members complained it is a waste of precious tax money as residents suffer in the pandemic.

Council gave the OK for city staff to purchase from Oracle Corporation data base security modules and one year of maintenance support for $503,525. According to a corporate report, this is “to meet enhanced security requirements for policing information.”

Councillor Jack Hundial, a former Mountie, said the money could be better used to support small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, or hiring four RCMP officers, or five firefighters “or even a combination thereof, to enhance public safety today, right now. Increasingly, every day, the public is saying now is not the time for the police transition and nobody really understands or knows why, what the difference is actually going to be.”

Councillor Steven Pettigrew argued the money would be “much better spent” on supporting Surrey’s business improvement associations, which are “really struggling right now,” or on helping food banks and other charities.

“I believe this is a waste of money,” he charged. “Our city is in a financial crisis right now because of COVID-19 and we should not be spending any more money on the transition or any other unneeded capital projects.”

Pettigrew noted Surrey is already about $40 million “in the hole” on account of the pandemic “and we’re expecting we could have a second wave hit us in the fall.”

“We really just need to hunker down,” he said. “We need to just take our resources and only spend what we need to spend right now, and keep the rest in reserve, and then evaluate things in the fall, and then we can look at what sort of shape we are in. So we just continue to cannibalize the city, looking for money to keep it running, and then we spend money on things like this.”

Councillor Brenda Locke said it was her understanding the new police board would be appointed prior to any expenditures at this level being done.

“I can’t support this,” she said.

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“We all know exactly what’s the freight train that’s coming at us financially.

“Experts, and there are many of them, are constantly saying hold onto your cash, hold onto your reserves, and only do those initiatives that support economic growth or are essential. The transition is not essential, and it makes no sense, and I would argue that right now is not the time to do that.”

Councillor Linda Annis said she wouldn’t support it either.

“We’re in serious financial trouble in the city,” she said. “This money should be going to support the residents and the businesses that are in Surrey to help them get kick-started.

“This is not good use of taxpayer’s money in Surrey,” Annis said.

No other council members spoke on the matter before McCallum called for the vote.

Earlier in the evening, as council considered an update report on the city’s COVID-19 response, Locke asked how many city employees are working on the policing transition “while we are down-tooling” on staffing levels in other departments.

Terry Waterhouse, general manager of the policing transition, said one new staff member – the executive director of the police board – has been hired.

“In total, working on the police transition, in addition to that individual there are three other people full-time in the policing transition department, and between one contractor and nine full-time employees,” Waterhouse said. “We have 10 individuals seconded from other departments in the city who are 100 per cent on the policing transition. So between contractors and employees there are a total of 14 individuals, full-time, on the policing transition.”

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