Island municipalities encouraged to raise OPP cost concerns with the province

MINDEMOYA—Members of the Manitoulin Community Policing Advisory Committee (CPAC) representing the various Island municipalities were encouraged by Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment commander Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb to bring concerns they have with the new proposed OPP billing model for 2015 to provincial politicians.

“I still think a lot of information needs to be worked out before the billing model is put in place, but your municipal councils need to convince provincial politicians that if the model goes through the way it has been presented, smaller municipalities like we have on the Island will be paying too much,” said Staff Sgt. Webb at a CPAC meeting last week. “You have to press your municipal representatives to relay concerns to the province.”

He explained the proposed new billing model had come “from a lot of discussions brought forward by a few municipalities out of the 136 we police in Ontario, who were concerned with the present model being too much.”

Burpee-Mills Councillor Wayne Bailey, who had attended a recent OPP billing model session in Sault Ste. Marie, said that although there are “some good ideas in the proposed policing model, the proposed model is going to see us having to increase our taxes by about 18 percent.”

Councillor Bailey explained the OPP billing model now is based on the number of households in a municipality, of which Burpee-Mills has 145. However, with the new model taking into consideration the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation they would include units like hunt camps, small camps, and a policing services charge would be put on all of them. “All these units require some policing and I can’t see camps and hunt camps being charged the same as is charged for a full time dwelling.”

“Some of it is downloading in R.I.D.E. (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) checks,” said Councillor Bailey. “We all know the provincial government has fiscal problems, but if they are downloading costs of policing, it may force municipalities to ask that some of the police services not be provided, which I would hate to see happen.”

“The sergeant in charge of the billing model meeting I attended (in Sault Ste. Marie) wouldn’t answer question on what portions will be downloaded,” continued Councillor Bailey.

Brian Parker, a Billings councillor, said, “the numbers I’ve seen show our (Billings) policing costs are going to go up 50 percent, which is astronomical. Something would have to go—would we have to cut back on things to save costs? With all these costs some of our municipalities will go into negative financing snowplowing which we can’t do, so we would have to cut back on things, maybe things like snowplowing if it gets that bad. It is going to force councils to start saying we don’t need this or that service. It is going to have a severe impact.”

“Ken Noland (reeve of Burpee-Mills) collected information from the local municipalities and I would say that except for two municipalities, Gore Bay and the Northeast Town, all our local municipalities are going to see a much higher increase in policing costs,” Councillor Bailey said. “It’s going to hit us all very hard.”

Councillor Parker noted that Billings Mayor Austin Hunt had stated at a recent meeting he can remember a time when the OPP services were provided free to municipalities, as the costs of policing were picked up by the province. “Now look, policing makes up a big part of our tax base. We’ve seen unreal change, what we’re seeing is basically another download from the province.”

“We have been told the whole proposal is being driven by the Minister of Finance office,” said Councillor Bailey.

Municipalities have no other income available to them except taxes from residents and commercial business operations, said Councillor Parker.

“Billings Township has 500 full-time residents, but in the summer this number is tripled or quadrupled,” added Councillor Parker.

Staff Sgt. Webb said the billing model will capture all 1,500 residents in Billings.

“It will hurt, we can’t afford the additional high cost increases,” said Councillor Parker.

“We are paying over $400 per household for policing now,” said CPAC chair Northeast Town Councillor Bruce Wood. “Realistically you would think we should all be paying the same for policing. Municipalities now have to provide 70 percent if not more of the funds for municipal services, like water and roads, with about 30 percent from the province and the federal government.”

“At the end of the meeting I attended in the Sault, I got the feeling there is a lot of pressure being put on to get this new billing model in place by 2015,” said Councillor Bailey.

“Aus (Hunt) said this issue is going to FONOM (Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities),” Councillor Parker said.

“Can we put something out in the paper that we have concerns about police costs, our (Billings) costs are going to go up from $130,000 to over $180,000?” asked Councillor Parker.

“We’re here providing services,” said Staff Sgt. Webb. “There is no offence with making your concerns known with the new billing model as far as we’re concerned. Our police officers live on the Island as well and they are going to be faced with the increased costs.”

Councillor Bailey noted, “we’re used to working under the OPP detachment here. The new billing model is based for all of Ontario.”

“The scariest thing about all of this is if we can’t afford (the increase) and have to cut programs and services in our municipalities, then we’re all losing,” said Councillor Parker.

Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, when contacted after the CPAC meeting told the Recorder, “the new OPP billing model will hurt a lot of municipalities. The larger municipalities will see benefits and the smaller rural areas will be hit with higher increased costs.”

“Definitely, we need to work with the municipalities through the province and police association to bring this cost model more in line,” said Mr. Mantha. “It would just be another additional cost faced by our smaller municipalities, something they can’t afford.”

“I am looking forward to hearing from the mayors and councils on exactly how much this is going to affect them. I want to work with them to bring these concerns to the province,” continued Mr. Mantha. “We need to put together information that proves the adverse affects this is going to have on smaller, Northern Ontario municipalities. We need to get the government to hear, listen and see that there is a financial hardship facing these municipalities.”

Tom Sasvari