Surrey city manager backs mayor over police budget deficit

Rob Costanzo issued a statement saying that Surrey city council never approved more than $48.8 million for the Surrey Police Service, despite SPS’s claims otherwise.

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Surrey’s city manager is backing Mayor Brenda Locke’s insistence that the provincially mandated municipal police service ran up an unauthorized deficit last year.

Rob Costanzo issued a statement Thursday confirming that city council approved a Surrey Police Service budget of $48.8 million, and said continued hiring by the force after it blew through that figure was prohibited by law.

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“SPS’s own media release acknowledges that SPS vastly exceeded its 2023 approved budget,” said Costanzo. “While SPS submitted a proposed 2023 budget of $157.6 million to the city,” that budget was never endorsed, he said

“Even if SPS was dissatisfied, SPS did not have the authority to unilaterally spend over its approved budget. That is not how municipal budgeting works. SPS failed to take any steps in a timely way to challenge or revisit Surrey council’s budget approval.”

Costanzo said the the force only “very recently” asked the B.C. director of police services, Glen Lewis, to intervene using the Police Act, long after it had spent millions over its budget. He argued Lewis has no jurisdiction in the dispute.

He also said the Surrey Police claim to be working on a bigger budget under Mike Serr, the administrator of the Surrey police board — who was appointed by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth after Farnworth fired the board headed by Locke — was “misleading.”

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Costanzo said when the city asked the force for an update on how its spending was tracking relative to its approved budget, it later gave the city a spending projection of $75 million under the status quo and with no more officer hires.

“This correspondence did not and could not constitute approval of an increased budget,” argued Costanzo. “Surrey council is the only body legally authorized to review and approve proposed budgets, and SPS chose to spend over and above the approved budget without first obtaining council’s authorization.”

He called Serr’s claim that Locke refused to formally approve the budget and misrepresented it as overspending was “baseless.”

The manager said the city will have more to say during a court proceeding and at a dispute process started late last year by the force under the Police Act.

But Costanzo said Serr has acknowledged the $75-million budget was never approved and Costanzo said even that figure didn’t include hiring 10 more officers late in 2023.

Costanzo also questioned Serr’s assertion that the “transition is legally bound to continue” and that “it is inappropriate to suggest that the continued hires and associated budget is a burden on taxpayers, just as it is unfair to refuse to pay these officers.”

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“The question of whether the transition must continue is currently before the courts,” he said. “It is not the appointed administrator’s decision to make. In the meantime, it would be unfair to taxpayers for the city to condone SPS’s spending and hiring without limitation, approval or legal authority.”

While calling the lack of city pay for those 10 officers “unfortunate,” Costanzo blamed the force for failing to be transparent with the recruits about its budget constraints and legal obligations.

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