Island municipalities urge province to assume policing

MINDEMOYA—The main issues topping the agenda of the January 22 meeting of the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) were the rising costs of policing and the new billing formula being proposed by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The group found consensus in the lack of sustainability of rising costs and a proposal that the province assume responsibility for policing communities with a population under 5,000, despite the proposed new billing model’s potential for significantly reducing costs for at least one Island municipality.

The MMA received a certified report from Baldwin Township clerk-treasurer Peggy Young at a January 20 meeting of Northern municipalities hosted by Baldwin Township and held in Sudbury where over 30 municipalities discussed the proposed OPP billing formula. “The municipalities in the room represented communities facing extreme cost increases if the proposed model were to be implemented and also included those municipalities which would see cost savings,” read the report presented to the MMA. “Three municipalities pay in excess of $600 per household for policing.” The report noted that there were both contract and non-contract municipalities in attendance.

The report from the Sudbury meeting noted that, following discussion about the issue, there was general agreement on the motion. The motion and its preamble read, “Whereas municipalities have been legislated to provide police services; and whereas municipalities have been paying inequitable costs for policing services; and whereas the Ontario Provincial Police have developed a model for billing their services to municipalities; and whereas there are a number of small municipalities who disagree with this funding model and do not believe that they will be beneficiaries of any proposed billing model; now therefore be it resolved that the Province of Ontario take back the responsibility for policing small municipalities with a population of 5,000 or less.”

The report further noted that the resolution would be forwarded to all Ontario municipalities with populations fewer than 5,000 for their consideration and to the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.

Representatives of the Northeast Town were noted to have taken part in the Sudbury meeting, but that they had to leave prior to the vote on the motion.

MMA chair Ken Noland, reeve of the Township of Burpee and Mills, opened discussion at the MMA meeting following the report by noting his community’s concern that the new OPP billing model is largely based on Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) data as to the number of households in a community. “My biggest beef is that out of the 701 households listed in my community, 372 are seasonal,” he said. “For a lot of Island communities, greater than half are seasonal and they don’t explain (how MPAC comes up with the numbers).”

“I think that every township would be the same,” noted Northeast Town councillor Paul Skippen. “Maybe the police numbers are out of whack.”

“These could include empty buildings,” interjected Billings Councillor Brad Parker. “I don’t think people are unwilling to pay their share.” But the proposed billing model would place an unfair burden on small rural municipalities by charging for properties that are occupied for only a small part of the year.

“Why aren’t they basing it on assessment?” asked Reeve Noland, who made the point that property values in southern Ontario exceed those in the North by a factor of as much as five-fold. “They estimate that the average per household will be about $369 per household, plus then calls for service.”

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin noted that a number of the municipalities at the meeting in Sudbury would see a reduction in their costs through the new billing model, including his own. The new billing model, despite being based on the number of households, tends to favour larger communities who suspect their current bills are inflated by the calls for service numbers due to the location of hospitals and other services being within their boundaries.

Councillor Parker noted that his own, small community (which hosts Manitoulin Secondary School) is one of the heaviest policed communities on the Island.

Mayor MacNevin said that while it might be problematic for he or his councillors to support a motion decrying a new funding model that would see a significant reduction in his community’s policing costs, the motion calling for the province to assume responsibility for policing smaller communities was something that they could support. Mayor MacNevin, however, expressed skepticism that the province would actually consider taking on those costs.

Assiginack Councillor Les Fields brought up the question of the costs associated with unincorporated townships. “If you are going to be equitable or fair,” she said. “The province has to upload those policing costs. This is going to place a new hardship on small communities.” Councillor Fields called on municipalities to speak with one voice on the issue.

Councillor Fields also questioned the lack of clarity or communication about how the billing formula was calculated. “How can we effectively plan when it is all so loosey-goosey?” she asked. “We can’t run our businesses like that.”

“I think they are also downloading the costs of the RIDE program,” said Reeve Noland. “That is not reflected in the document yet.”

Councillor Fields suggested that the policing costs should be more appropriately based on the provincial income tax, rather than being placed on the rolls of local ratepayers.

Mayor MacNevin noted that while the new billing formula may benefit his community, “I still think we have been paying too much.”

Another concern raised at the table was the overall bill for policing the Island, which according to the estimates received by the municipalities, seems to indicate that the overall bill will rise by $600,000 a year.

“They are going to get another $600,000 from Manitoulin,” said Mayor MacNevin. “I don’t think (Staff Sergeant) Webb (Manitoulin OPP detachment commander Kevin Webb) called for that kind of budget increase.”

The Northeast Town mayor noted that his community is currently paying 50 percent of the cost of the Island’s policing costs as far as the OPP is concerned. Mayor MacNevin explained that his staff suspects that the location of the Manitoulin Health Centre in the Northeast Town plays a significant role in the high incident rate listed for his community. “When the police bring someone into the hospital, and then they act up, the call goes out from the hospital for the police to come and it is listed as being a call in our community.”

The new billing model reduced the portion of calls for service to 27 percent. Mayor MacNevin noted that this could result in a 14 percent reduction in his community’s invoice, even though the households listed in his community also contains a significant percentage of seasonal residences.

Under the old model, the Northeast Town paid 48 percent of the costs for the entire Island although they only have 33 percent of the households, noted Mayor MacNevin. “Under the new model it’s 30 percent.” Even under an assessment model the Northeast Town share would drop to 33 percent.

“I can’t go back to my council and say I voted against a new model that would reduce our costs,” he said. “I would be happy to support a motion urging the province to take back responsibility for policing small communities.”

Councillor Fields noted that the Northeast Town also benefits from having services located in their municipality. “NEMI has to remember that they have revenues from the hospital,” she said, noting that the employment and ancillary services pay dividends at the tax rolls.

Mayor MacNevin rejoined that many of the employees of the health centre live in other Island communities and noted that the main reason for concern by the other municipalities was based on rising costs. “I don’t think you would see it (the billing model) on the agenda if it wasn’t costing the other towns,” he said.

Assiginack Councillor Paul Moffat noted that until his municipality’s last meeting, his council had believed their costs would also be going down.

Mayor MacNevin noted that the difficult part of the equation was that the OPP contract was less expensive than it would be if the municipalities were to provide the police services themselves.

Councillor Fields suggested that the municipalities should investigate the options of asking the RCMP to provide the policing services.

Councillor Skippen suggested the possibility of approaching the UCCM Tribal Police to provide the service.

Mayor MacNevin noted that the charter of the UCCM police does not allow them to provide police services outside of First Nations communities.

Reeve Noland noted that his municipality would have to raise their taxes 24 percent to meet the costs of the new billing model. “I can tell you right now that isn’t going to happen,” he said, intimating that his community would refuse to pay the costs.

Reeve Noland tabled a letter from his community that spoke strongly against the new model. The letter cited the impact of listing seasonal residences as households (and the typically low assessment on hunting camps), the 8.5 percent salary increase contained in the OPP union contract, the disparity in incomes on Manitoulin compared to the average police salary ($46,000 against over $120,000) and that many rural municipalities are being faced with 300 percent increases. The letter concluded with “Taxpayers on Manitoulin will simply not be able to afford to pay for such extravagant increases and the municipalities will have no choice but to refuse to pay.”

“You are going to see a lot of tax sales,” interjected one West End MMA representative, noting that the building of new homes in a community will raise the policing bill. “Everybody keeps talking about bringing in more development. Maybe that isn’t such a good thing.”

In the end, the Burpee and Mills letter did not find a second to bring it to a vote but some municipal representatives said that their communities would bring it up at their respective councils.

The motion calling for the province to assume responsibility for policing costs in communities under 5,000 in population received unanimous support.

Reeve Noland noted that Municipal Affairs and Housing were slated to give a presentation on the new Official Plan to the MMA at the next meeting on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

“We are going to ask the MNR to be here as well to discuss the Official Plan as regards to deer yards,” said the chair.

Aquaculture mavin Mike Meeker will also be presenting to the MMA on the quality of the water in the lakes on Manitoulin. “He can tell us what data he has from the lakes,” said Councillor Hayden. Lakes Manitou and Kagawong are listed as being at capacity for development, a situation that has a number of municipalities concerned.

The MMA went on to discuss the issues facing deer with the current winter temperatures and heavy snowfall, with Councillor Hayden noting that the Manitoulin Stewardship council have not declared the situation in the deer yards as being at emergency levels yet, they are asking property owners to break trails for the animals to reach food sources.

Councillor Hayden cautioned that anyone considering feeding deer recognize that once they start feeding, they must continue, and that caution should be taken in what is being fed to deer, as the wrong feed could cause more harm than good.

The MMA passed the organization’s financial reports and the 2014 budget, which contained no significant increases.

A special MMA meeting was set for February 26 at 7:30 pm.

Michael Erskine