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Local Council votes 6-1 to disband Orangeville Police Service

December 5, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

In an almost-unanimous vote on Monday evening (Dec. 2), Orangeville Council gave the thumbs up to a move that will lead to the Ontario Provincial Police supplanting the Orangeville Police Service (OPS). 

There was an uneasy feeling within Council chambers as the vote loomed. A sense of nervousness spread amongst those in the gallery, largely made up of current OPS employees and supporters, as Mayor Sandy Brown explained how the vote would proceed. 

Once all was said and done, he, along with Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh and Councillors Grant Peters, Lisa Post, Joe Andrews and Debbie Sherwood voted in favour of transitioning to the OPP. Coun. Todd Taylor was the lone vote in favour of maintaining OPS.

Further details regarding the transition will be ironed out over the coming weeks, according to Orangeville CAO Ed Brennan. When talking to the Citizen the morning after the vote, Mayor Brown estimated the OPP may be in a position to take over policing services in town by “the end of summer” in 2020. 

It’s been almost 12 months to the day since Council committed to taking a “deep dive” into the future of the municipality’s policing service. 

The OPS has been in existence for 155 years, but, at 23 percent as per the 2020 budget, is the biggest line item in the Town’s operating budget. While OPS’ net budget for next year is slated to come in at $8.3 million, up around $200,000 from 2019, that number is offset by more than $1.5 million in grants and revenues. In total, OPS’ gross budget is close to the $10 million mark next year. 

“This, for me, has always been about the money. About fiscal responsibility,” Mayor Brown said. “For a service level equal to or better than what exists right now, and for the long-term sustainability of this town, it was simple. It was a simple decision for me. Nostalgia didn’t come into my mind during this decision-making progress.”

Each member of Council took their turn to explain the rationale behind their decision prior to the vote. Coun. Grant Peters expressed his belief that the entire process this time around was “open and fair”

“It’s impossible to know 100 percent of the facts concerning any decision, as things are constantly evolving. I came into this exercise with an open mind… Having taken in all the information, attending ride alongs, touring facilities and discussing matters with other towns, and meeting with numerous members of the community, I believe the OPP can serve this town productively and cost effectively,” Coun. Peters stated. “They are an upstanding force with a proven track record across more than half of the municipalities in this province.”

He would go on to encourage all current OPS officers to pursue positions with the OPP so as to “continue (their) service in our wonderful town”.

“I believe the people that enter the field of policing do so to make this world safer by serving the public, and this can be accomplished regardless of the patch on their uniform,” Coun. Peters concluded.

Coun. Lisa Post maintained this issue has never been about OPS vs OPP for her, while noting that while she feels a deep connection to our local police service, she believes that has little to do with the crest on an officer’s shirt, and more to do with the officers themselves, most of whom, she notes, will likely be taken on by OPP. 

Having participated in back-to-back municipal campaigns, Coun. Post noted the number one issue brought up to her by local residents is a feeling of being over-taxed and under-serviced. That, she says, contributed to her “tough” decision.

“I’ve had to make some tough decisions in both my personal and professional life, but I don’t recall any decision being as difficult as this one. It’s an issue that has caused deep fractures in our community,” Coun. Post stated. “Citizens are worried their children and future generations won’t be able to afford to live in our great community, and that’s a legitimate concern. Through both election campaigns, my message remained constant, that I would work diligently to spend tax dollars wisely, and that I would work hard to spend less and be able to accomplish more.

She added, “After careful deliberation and with all due respect to both police services, my vote today is not a vote cast against any one police service. Instead, it is one that will give increased opportunities to our community in the future.”

As the lone vote for OPS, Coun. Taylor found himself disputing the numbers and information presented by Jon Hambides, the consultant hired by the Town to analyze the figures put forth by both OPS and OPP. His chief concern centred around the now $7.5 million the Town is projecting to spend on transitional costs, which will cover severance to OPS staff, upgrades to the existing police station on C-Line and one-time start-up costs, including things such as vehicles and equipment, for OPP. 

“Those that know me understand I take time with large decisions. I weigh every angle over and over again. Fiscally, I’m a very conservative person. To this day, I still have the very first dollar I ever made. If I don’t have the money to buy something, I don’t buy it. To that end, I’m concerned about the amount of money that would be required to transition to a new police force. The costs are significant,” Coun. Taylor said. “In my experience, initiatives like this always end up costing taxpayers more than was originally thought. To me, getting rid of something does not justify cost expenditure in the millions of dollars. I’m not in favour of borrowing, nor am I in favour of utilizing reserves for such a measure.”

Coun. Taylor referenced a report compiled by BDO during the previous costing, which essentially called into question the methodology behind Mr. Hambides using a 16-year projection when mapping out future policing costs in Orangeville. He also doubted the calls-for-service data presented to Council under the OPP billing model, which was much less than is currently recorded by OPS.

“In my own professional life, I do five-year projections all the time, for millions of dollars. I know one thing – I am wrong almost as soon as I finish the report, because after five years there’s enough uncertainty to cause doubt,” Coun. Taylor said. “If our assumptions are wrong, then the cost (of OPP) will be higher.”

He added, “To the citizens of Orangeville, there is no doubt that Orangeville has high taxes. Changing police forces will not lower your taxes. The truth is, there is a long list of projects in this town that must get done. Orangeville won’t see any financial benefit from an OPP decision until at least 2024.”

Keeping his cards close to his chest, Coun. Joe Andrews was coy with his comments leading up to vote, being the only member who didn’t make his position on the issue clear. 

He noted the process over the past 12 months has been “lengthy” and “contentious” and that his decision was based on spending countless hours and many sleepless nights reviewing all the information Council has received. While he seemed to indicate this was a decision, for him, to be made based off numbers, he was having trouble wrapping his head around the personal impacts this decision will have on members of the community.

“It is the human capital where I’m having the biggest struggle in making my decision. The human capital of OPS is such there are real people committed to the community in so many different ways,” Coun. Andrews stated. “I focus on the closing comments of the consultant last Monday – Council has the task of choosing from two equal police services. There’s no evidence to indicate one will provide lesser level of service to Orangeville than the other.

He added, “When I decided to run for a municipal seat in last year’s election, I reviewed concerns as echoed by people of the community. I listened time and time again (as people spoke about) how property taxes and costs associated to it. This Council… were given a mandate as far as I’m concerned. I was elected to make decisions, sometimes very tough decisions, and to do so with concise and appropriate thought applying integrity and fiscal prudence.”

Coun. Debbie Sherwood informed the room she would be voting with her head, rather than with her heart on this issue, stating that since taking office, she has clearly set out to focus on effective financial management and cost containment.

“This has been a long process, but definitely something this Council wanted in order to not rush the decision. This decision is not about the past, but is focused on embracing the future, and ensuring the town can continue to meet the needs of residents and businesses, while being fiscally responsible.”

Having been the seconder to Mayor Brown’s motion to accept CAO Ed Brennan’s recommendation to enter into an agreement with OPP, Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh’s vote wasn’t a surprise to those in the gallery. He kept his comments short and sweet as the last person to speak before the recorded vote. 

“I know how hard this decision was, not only for me, but for all of us. My decision will not be an easy one, but one I feel will be best for Orangeville, and is one I can, and will, live with,” Deputy Mayor Macintosh noted. 

There were audible boos following the vote, both within Council chambers, and in the spillover of observers in the main foyer. Police Chief Wayne Kalinski, Deputy Chief Leah Gilfoy and Sgt. Dave McLagan immediately left the gallery, consoling other OPS members in attendance who were distraught over the result of the vote. 

When speaking to the Citizen on Tuesday (Dec. 3), while Mayor Brown expressed sympathy over those individuals, he noted he was elected to represent a town of 30,000 people and reiterated his belief that the decision to disband OPS was a correct one. He would go on to indicate that the job losses some feared would come as a result of the decision, may not come to pass.

“Civilian members of OPS will be offered positions through the OPP portal and the Ontario Public Service portal, so I think many of those people will be hired on in other places. I’m thinking of this more as job displacement rather than job losses,” Mayor Brown said. “I do feel for these people, but we were elected to represent 30,000 and the kind of dollar savings that are being offered here is unprecedented in the history of the Town of Orangeville. This kind of windfall savings is unheard of. You could close an entire department of the town and still not have this kind of savings.”

It has been estimated that the Town could save as much as $58 million by 2036 by transitioning its policing services to the OPP. 

While there was a group of local residents firmly behind the OPS during this process, Mayor Brown expressed his belief that the “silent majority” backed Council’s decision on Monday. He maintained that, at least on his part, nothing throughout this process was personal, rather was based upon fiduciary responsibility. 

“When you’re offered an equivalent service for maybe half the price, you have to look at it. You have to do your homework and verify this is the case. If somebody came along and said they could run the sewage treatment plant for half the cost, I would be looking at that too,” Mayor Brown said. “This has not been a personal thing against OPS. It’s a departmental review on the largest number on our budget. It’s the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb. What happened last night is a good thing for the Town of Orangeville moving forward.”

A specific timeline will be ironed out over the coming weeks, says Mr. Brennan, noting he has already held discussions with OPP brass. First order of business will be submitting an application to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to approve the disbandment of OPS. That paperwork likely won’t be ready to be sent out until January, with a decision expected to take several weeks. 

Then, severance packages for all current members of OPS will have to be negotiated. While that process is underway, OPP will likely open up the door for OPS officers to apply for positions within the OPP. Following that interview and hiring process, all successful applicants will be sent away for training. While those members are being trained, Mayor Brown indicated the OPP would bring in officers from other areas to police the community. Upon completion of training, the officers familiar with Orangeville would return and the transition can be completed.

With more than $1.2 million worth of renovations required at Orangeville’s existing police station, OPP likely won’t be in a position to take over policing services in the community until “the end of summer” in 2020, Mayor Brown reiterated.

In what was something of an unexpected side note, Mayor Brown said that, if he were to make up part of Orangeville’s next Council, he would be lobbying for a tax decrease once the OPP savings start to roll in. 

“People have asked if we’re going to cut taxes. First of all, the significant reduction of police costs don’t happen until the next Council is elected. If I’m around at that time, for sure there will be a tax reduction. That what I believe, and I believe Council would support some portion of those savings going to reducing property taxes,” Mayor Brown said. 

“I’m quite certain we are going to be in a better place for property taxes. At a minimum, we could freeze taxes for many, many years as a result of these savings. That would be something I’d be pushing at the very least.”



         

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