Election 2014: How civic candidates are paying for their policing promises

City of Surrey: Surrey First claims Barinder Rasode's plan unfunded and dangerous.

Surrey mayoral candidates (clockwise from top left) Barinder Rasode

Mayoral candidates are under fire as opponents ask how they will fund their increased policing promises.

Mayoral hopeful Coun. Barinder Rasode announced this week she wants to hire 200 community safety personnel – trained like police officers but unarmed –  to respond to minor incidents in Surrey, freeing up regular RCMP members to take on the more serious issues.

And she would like retiring Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford to accept a new role as a deputy city manager to oversee police, firefighters, the legal department and bylaws.

She said her plan will cost about $8 million and can be funded with the one per cent of unused discretionary funding she said city staff has told her is available.

That figure would eventually rise to $12 million per year when the officers reached a full pay rate of $28 an hour.

But Surrey First Coun. Tom Gill, an accountant by trade, said in calculating the costs of Rasode’s plan, it would be necessary to factor in about 20 per cent more in benefits ($2.4 million), bringing the figure north of $14 million annually.

Add to that the operating costs of training, supervisors, lease space, etc., and the price of the safety personnel becomes even more expensive, Gill said.

He also noted there will be significant capital costs, including vehicles, uniforms, radios and other safety systems.

Rasode said in addition to the discretionary funding, there’s more money that can be found, including expenditures from the mayor’s office, such as trips and car allowance, a flower budget and catering costs.

She also said she would perform a full audit of Surrey’s books to figure out where further savings could be found.

“At the City of Surrey, we do not have a money issue, we have a spending issue,” Rasode said.

Gill, who is also chair of the city’s finance committee, said the mayor’s statement of expenses last year was $35,000 and her car allowance was $14,000 – a pittance compared to what is needed for policing, he said.

He also said there is no cash left over in discretionary funding.

“We’ve got an unfunded portion every year on our (city) budgets, $4.5 million if memory serves me correctly,” Gill said in an interview with The Leader. “If in fact, if we had the discretionary line that I could pull out, I would not have presented the budgets in the fashion that have.”

Surrey First mayoral candidate Linda Hepner dismissed Rasode’s plan as nearly identical to the Surrey Crime Strategy “which has been in place since 2007, is almost 90 per cent complete and was developed with input from more than 100 community agencies and organizations.”

Hepner also called Rasode’s plan to hire safety personnel as “dangerous.”

“The only real difference is that Rasode’s version will spend $8 million to put 200 well-intentioned, but inexperienced, citizens on the street, creating a danger to themselves and the community,” Hepner said in a news release Thursday afternoon.

“The people she’s talking about are not trained police officers. Policing is serious business and it needs to be handled by professionals.”

Surrey First is planning to hire 100 additional RCMP officers, which would cost $10 million annually. Once cars, equipment, uniforms, etc. are added to the equation, the figure  rises to $15 million each year.

Gill said there are several areas where the city would find portions for the required funding, including $5 million from new development, $7 million from a planned 2.9-per-cent property tax increase, $13 million from secondary suite fees and $4.5 million from Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) dividends.

Gill said the city would likely take small portions of each to fund the $15-million plan.

Doug McCallum, a mayoral candidate with the Safe Surrey Coalition, has promised to hire new police and bylaw officers.

He said he’ll get the $21 million needed for his plan from selling the SCDC and its assets, which he said would generate $10 million annually.

He also plans on using cash from new development ($5 million) and a one-per-cent savings in city departments which would generate $6 million.

Hepner countered that approach is wrong-headed, as the SCDC is earning the city almost $5 million annually.

“When I hear someone say they’ve got a simple solution to public safety, I say there’s no such thing. Anyone who wants to be mayor of Surrey and says they’ve got a simple solution to policing, crime and public safety isn’t being honest with our citizens,” Hepner said.

Independent mayoral candidate John Edwards said Surrey Surrey can’t wait for the officers being promised by other candidates. He said positions need to be filled now and that could be accomplished by hiring back 30 RCMP retirees, who are already trained.

He would pay for those positions ($4.5 million) by using dividends from SCDC.

Vikram Bajwa, also an independent mayoral hopeful, wants to switch from the federal Surrey RCMP to a municipal police force.

A study conducted in 2001 for the city indicated it would cost about $3 million in initial capital outlay for a private force. In addition, Surrey would lose a 10 per cent contribution for police services. That would be about $10 million.

Bajwa said he would take the initial capital outlay from the city’s Homelessness and Housing Fund, and would pay for the loss in federal revenue with dividends from SCDC.

Voters go to the polls Nov. 15.

@diakiw

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