Policing costs have municipalities at gun point

Obscenely high and unsustainable policing costs. OPP bills are destroying communities its officers are supposed to protect. Apparent self-interest is cloaked in the guise of public safety needs. Where is the political outrage while OPP costs continue to climb? Who is going to bring policing costs in this province under control?

Policing costs have municipalities at gun point

Postby Thomas » Fri Dec 18, 2015 10:37 am

It’s hard not to pick up a newspaper in this region and not find a story about the debilitating effect that policing costs have on the bottom line of municipalities.

Each year, we hear reeves, mayors and treasurers crying “Uncle!” at budget time with no end in sight.

In an effort to find a solution, the 14 member municipalities in Hastings County are being asked if they are interested in requesting a costing from Ontario Provincial Police to provide police services across the entire county under one shared contract, instead of having many individual police services.

Stirling-Rawdon Council earlier this month voted in favour of going ahead with investigating the feasibility of the regional policing model.

“I think this is a good proposal,” said Stirling-Rawdon Mayor Rodney Cooney.

Currently, policing is the responsibility of each individual municipality.

At the last regular meeting of Hastings County Council in November, a comparison was made with the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, which has had unified policing for about 10 years. There, the total cost of policing the entire population of approximately 65,000 people in 2016 is estimated at $11.5-million. The cost is included in the annual county levy. The level of service is equal in all areas and there is one police board for the entire County.

Hastings County – excluding Belleville - includes about 33,000 people, but the estimated total cost of policing for all 14 municipalities for 2016 is about $10-million. Of that, about 18 per cent ($1.8-million) is the cost incurred for policing in Stirling-Rawdon, alone, so it’s easy to understand the municipality might be interested in finding a way to shave costs.

Hastings county council has asked each of the 14 member municipalities to decide by January 22 whether it supports moving forward with a costing request to the OPP. Approving a resolution to request the cost estimate will not require a municipality to commit to a contract for County-wide policing.

Tweed Mayor Jo-Anne Albert this year attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference and noted the issue of mounting policing costs were – as in many years at the AMO conference – a hot topic.

According to reports from the time, escalating OPP policing costs continue to be a concern for many small municipalities and Albert reported that Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, in attendance at the conference, expressed a willingness to look at the issue, possibly even reviewing the whole Police Act. “That's what we've been asking for,” said Albert. “The whole Act needs to be revised.”

It’s not just a serious financial drag on Hastings County municipalities, either.

In Havelock, we reported last week that a major increase in policing costs is driving a potential tax hike in the municipality of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen.

Township Council once again looked at its 2016 draft budget, which proposes a 5.7 per cent tax hike with a staggering $245,277 increase in contract OPP policing costs accounting for almost four per cent of that.

Policing costs in HBM jumped from $995,811 in 2015 to $1,241,088 under the OPP’s new funding formula.

Policing costs alone represent 24.5 per cent of the levy increase, Treasurer Carol James said.

It’s driving mayors and reeves – and their treasurers – mad with ways to meet infrastructure demands, paying their share of social services levies and all the rest, all the while staring down the barrel of what has amounted to annual increases in OPP service costs.

Belleville stands alone in having a full-sized, stand-alone police service and it too is undergoing some crushing decisions – chief among them where, when and how much to spend on a new police headquarters.

Some time back, there was some discussion for a regional police force that would have served Belleville and Trenton, if not all of Quinte West. It got no traction and since then, Quinte West folded the Trenton Police Force and went OPP.

It’s encouraging to see, though, that Hastings council has taken the lead in seeking a solution, but the province, as was promised to Tweed mayor Albert, needs to take a serious look, too, at the entire Police Act and how it applies to smaller, rural municipalities like those that make up 80 per cent of this region.

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