COLUMN: Surrey councillors’ non-residence a serious concern

Draft budget’s singular focus makes Surrey council members’ home address relevant

Surrey council is split down the middle on many issues, which means that every vote is important.

However, it is very disheartening to find out that two of the five members who remain part of the Safe Surrey Coalition majority do not even live in Surrey. Yet these two individuals can be counted on to cast votes in line with whatever SSC leader Mayor Doug McCallum is preaching on that particular Monday.

Normally, where a councillor lives is of secondary importance – as long as they have a stake in the community they represent, and a high level of interest in its affairs. Past Surrey council members have lived in New Westminster and White Rock. A past school trustee lived in Gibsons, and one councillor even commuted from Trail to attend council meetings for a short while, after relocating.

However, when the issue is the 2020 draft budget’s singular focus on status quo or reduced spending, in order to be able to afford a city police force, the issue of residence become much more important. Coun. Allison Patton lives in White Rock, and Coun. Mandeep Nagra lives in Delta. Both operate businesses in Surrey and pay taxes here. Both have lived in Surrey in the past.

However, Nagra is stating that it’s worth cutting back on spending temporarily to enable a city police force to be set up. In his words to the Peace Arch News’ sister paper, the Surrey Now-Leader, “it’s buying safety.”

His views on policing may be influenced by the fact that in Delta, the police motto is “no call too small.” Contrast that with the experience in Surrey, where many calls to police are not responded to in person – due to lack of resources. This is not a new thing, but it’s getting worse as the city continues to grow and the current council refuses to hire any more RCMP officers.

Patton’s experience in White Rock is similar.

The City of White Rock is policed by White Rock RCMP, who may not have a formal motto of “no call too small” but act as if they do. Calls are responded to quickly and there is a high level of satisfaction with the RCMP.

Both Nagra and Patton seem prepared to pass the draft budget, which includes a freeze on hiring firefighters, a freeze on hiring city staff (with a few exceptions), delays in capital projects and a number of other moves that will push Surrey even further behind. Senior governments don’t fund projects in Surrey quickly enough to keep up with growth. Now the city is following suit.

A new city police force may be able to get a better handle on crime, as its proponents say. However, it makes no sense to let crime get more out of control, which is inevitable if the population grows and police resources do not. This just makes the job of the new city police force, which is projected to have fewer officers than Surrey RCMP now has, that much tougher.

The revelation that two of the five SSC council members who are likely to push Surrey farther down this road do not even live here is profoundly disappointing. Hopefully, it is not a road of no return.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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