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'Highly problematic': Surrey residents given little time to weigh in on city's draft budget, group says

Last Updated Dec 2, 2019 at 10:22 am PDT

File photo. (Tarnjit Parmar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Integrity BC says it's 'problematic' that public consultation on Surrey's draft budget is being held at 1 p.m. Monday

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – People living in Surrey don’t have much time to tell the city how they feel about next year’s draft budget, which doesn’t include any new cash for police or firefighters.

The only public consultation session on the matter is being held at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, ahead of a planned city council vote at 7:00 p.m.

Dermod Travis, the executive director of Integrity BC, says this doesn’t make sense because information sessions and open houses are usually held during evenings and weekends.

“It’s highly problematic. You have to make certain that consultations happen at a time that are convenient for the public,” he explains. “The afternoon of a business day is probably one of the least opportune moments to try to engage with the public.

“Budget consultation is not something that’s unavoidable, it happens every year,” Travis adds. “Certainly, Surrey could have taken that extra step.”

Travis says recommendations made by B.C.’s auditor general years ago included all municipalities making sure this type of input is gathered at a time when it’s most convenient for everyone to take part. The recommendations ask that municipalities do what they can to sincerely give people a chance to engage.

He says he’s getting the sense that more municipalities are moving their consultations to times that are “convenient” to the public.

“There’s still some hold outs, sometimes, on specific issues versus, sort of, a city-wide policy,” Travis notes. “But, I think if public puts more pressure on their city councils to ensure that when the council wants to engage with them, that they’re actually available to be engaged with, would be helpful.”

He points to the Capital Regional District, where public consultations are sometimes held during the day.

“Again, same problem. If you want to hear what the public says and thinks on these issues, well, you’ve got to make certain that they can get there,” Travis said.

Critical debate

As the controversy around Surrey’s switch to a municipal police force continues, the draft budget includes no new money to hire additional police officers or firefighters.

“I think that Surrey is obviously facing a very critical debate over the future of policing in its community,” Travis says. “I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of that debate is centred on issues that have little to do on policing and far more to do with personalities.”

He says “when you hold this type of consultations at a bad time for the public, you’re sending a message, subliminally or not, that you really aren’t that interested in having too much public input on this.”

What deeply concerns Travis about how the city is proceeding on its policing transition, he explains, is that it doesn’t focus on the best policing model for Surrey.

“But rather this personality-based debate with the mayor and his other councillors, and a very divided community right now.”

City staff say the public has had two weeks to comment online, ahead of Monday’s public consultation and this year’s session is actually starting two hours earlier than it did last year.

-With files from Alison Bailey