CAO Ed Brennan cites potential savings in recommending Council disband OPS

November 15, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Orangeville CAO Ed Brennan is once again leading the charge for the Town to make drastic changes to local policing.

Little more than two years has passed since the Town’s top staffer recommended the community’s previous Council disband the 155-year-old Orangeville Police Service in favour of entering into an agreement with the Ontario Provincial Police to provide policing services in Orangeville. On Monday (Nov. 11), he made the same recommendation following a bitter, months-long debate, launched by our new Council in December of 2018, surrounding the future of OPS.

“My recommendation is based on the outcomes of the review process, including all the steps this Council has taken to get information on both OPS and OPP. My focus is on recommending the best option for the Town considering fiscal responsibility, levels of policing service and the overall impact on our community now and in the future,” Mr. Brennan informed Council. “Therefore, the CAO recommends that Council accept the OPP’s costing proposal.”

Details of that proposal have been well documented, with many column inches in this newspaper dedicated to both OPS’ and OPP’s financials over the past six months. In short, the OPP has committed to providing policing services in Orangeville for a combined cost of approximately $25.5 million ($9.2 million in 2020, and $8.1 million in both 2021 and 2022) over the course of a three-year transitional contract. 

On top of that, a consultant hired by the Town to complete a thorough review of both policing proposals, states the Town will be on the hook for approximately $7.2 million in transition costs should it decide to disband OPS, with the majority of that figure, around $4.7 million, slated for severance pay to current OPS employees.

While the above doesn’t make for pretty reading, the consultant’s report, compiled by Jon Hambides of Pomax Consulting, estimates the Town could save $58 million over the next 16 years by transitioning to the OPP. Mr. Brennan would quote that report extensively as he explained his decision.

“When we look at the summary of the consultant’s findings, it focuses on a few things – response times, level of service, police staffing levels, police services boards, costs and projected savings. The consultant looked at current response times of OPS, trying to determine if a transition to the OPP would result in a deterioration of response times – no evidence, or indication was found to support such (a belief),” Mr. Brennan stated. “The consultant concluded OPP response times in town would be similar to, or better than (what we’re seeing at) present.”

He added, “Under (the OPP’s) new billing model, when we look at years 2024 through 2036, the Town would recognize from these numbers an average of $4.66 million in savings annually. This equates to 13 percent of the Town’s present annual tax levy.”

During the previous OPP costing proposal, Mr. Brennan and then treasurer Marc Villeneuve estimated the Town would save in the region of $4.3 million per year by transitioning to the OPP. 

During last week’s Council meeting, where Mr. Hambides officially presented his report to Council, concerns were raised over how the municipality would be able to afford to extensive costs that would pile up in year one of a transition to the OPP. In total, it was estimated policing services would cost the Town in the region $15.6 million in 2020 should Council vote to disband OPS.

Mr. Brennan suggested the Town could borrow from its municipal reserve fund, currently sitting at approximately $16.4 million, to pay for the transitional costs, and seek to pay back that money over a five year period. Alternatively, he noted staff have been quoted an interest rate of 2.8 percent over the course of a five-year loan to borrow the money, something that would cost taxpayers an additional $563,628.

In explaining his recommendation, Mr. Brennan noted a changing landscape in the way municipal governments are funded, and do business, played heavily on his mind. As such, the anticipated savings, Mr. Brennan notes, would help to protect the Town in the face of pending uncertainty.

“As we talk about fiscal responsibility, I want to bring Council’s consideration to the municipal fiscal climate. Not just Orange-ville, but other locations as well, other municipalities, have seen a lot of change over the past few months from the federal and provincial governments. Some of that change, we really don’t know how it’s impacting us at this stage. The true cost and impact have not yet been recognized,” Mr. Brennan stated. 

The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, which Mr. Brennan notes the Town has been “happily” receiving funds from over the last number of keys to complete key projects within the Town, will be discontinued in 2020. Proposed changes to the More Homes and More Choices Act, predominantly surrounding development charges, could also have adverse, costly impacts to the Town’s bottom line, Mr. Brennan added.

“On top of that, we also have changes coming to our asset management plan. In 2016 it was noted that our infrastructure gap is approximately $5.35 million. Council has made some moves to close that gap in recent years, but a gap still remains,” Mr. Brennan stated. “Increased requirements (have been set by the Province) to municipal asset management plans. They’re basically telling us if we own assets, we need to make sure we’re properly funding them, repairing them, putting money towards them and managing them.”

He added, “Then we have climate change adaptation and clean initiatives. If you look at some of the storms we’ve seen, and the severity of them, it’s going to cost municipalities if we want to build and protect our environment. If we want to reduce our carbon footprint, it is going to cost us money.

“I do want to stress to Council, regardless of who is providing policing in our municipality, whether it be OPS, OPP or (other force), those future fiscal concerns are still going to face us,” Mr. Brennan continued. “In his report, the consultant has concluded that evidence leads us to believe that accepting OPP’s proposal will enable the Town to experience essentially the same level of policing as at present, at a saving of $58 million (between 2020 and 2036). The CAO finds no reason to disagree with the consultant’s conclusion.”

Following Mr. Brennan’s recommendation, Coun. Debbie Sherwood made a motion that Council gather its thoughts and commit to making a final decision on Nov. 25.

“We have gone through several months of exercising to get to this point. To further delay to vote and wait until the Dec. 9 deadline when we are entering into budget discussions, wouldn’t be wise,” Coun. Sherwood stated. 

In total, 17 members of the public came forward on Monday to voice their opinion on the Town’s policing issue, with 12 appearing to side with OPS, and five in favour of the OPP. 

Lynne Hipfner, supported by her husband Jerry, has been a resident of Orangeville for 45 years, and asserted her belief that this “pivotal” decision should be about more than just money.

“Throughout all the sessions, and feedback, I’ve come to realize that the prime focus of the mayor of Orangeville (Sandy Brown) in this process is cost savings. We as taxpayers are fully aware that any cost savings will not be refunded, nor (will) property taxes be reduced. Lots of people I’ve spoken to are expecting lower taxes, but that is highly unlikely whether OPS or OPP police Orangeville,” Ms. Hipfner said. “I feel the value of a local police force could not be compared in monetary terms.”

Murray Berger, a former member of OPS, pleaded with Council to “make the right decision” and vote to keep OPS.

“Right now, looking back over the years, we have in Orangeville the best chief, the best deputy chief and the best officers we will ever have in this municipality. I urge mayor and Council to please consider that fact and vote for OPS,” Mr. Berger stated. “The chief, and deputy, are both wonderful people. We can’t ask for any more than that. Are we going to get that with OPP?”

Ann Tory, and her 12-year-old grandson Connor, managed to gather signatures from 460 Orangeville residents, and 41 non-residents in a petition calling for Council to keep OPS. Connor presented that petition to Council on Monday. 

There have been lots of sleepless nights for Tina Hinsberger throughout this process. She has been ever-present at the different community engagement sessions the municipality has held focusing on the policing issue. She, too, asked that Council consider the potential impacts, both short- and long-term, should it decide to essentially kill OPS.

“If Council does decide to move forward with OPP, we can’t go back. It’s too cost-prohibitive to go back,” Ms. Hinsberger said. 

Referencing the consultant’s report, she expressed “great concerns” over what she described as the “guesstimates” put forward by Mr. Hambides.

“We have estimates, but no costing. Mayor Jason Baker of Brockville mentioned his town pushed for a very specific made-in-Brockville costing from the OPP, and discovered the OPP would have actually cost more. He told me it took him two months to push for that costing,” Ms. Hinsberger stated. “I see nothing in the consultant’s report that this is a made-in-Orangeville costing, making it look more apples to apples. I see some comparison, but mostly I see a report that speaks only in generalities.”

On the other side of the fence, local businessman Frank Gray was adamant in his belief that switching to OPP would benefit Orangeville and its residents in a big, big way.

“Orangeville has the highest property taxes of any municipality around. Our continuous property tax increases need to get under control. Many residents feel pushed to the limit, with costs rising in all areas,” Mr. Gray began. “Most of Council, if not all, pledged to come to grips with the Town’s property taxes when running for Council. Here is an opportunity to fulfill that pledge.”

He added, “Most people I speak with support saving money when the opportunity arises. I know the majority of taxpayers fall into this category. They’re the silent majority. They don’t speak up because they don’t want to rock the boat. I am here tonight to speak for them.”

Piggybacking off Mr. Gray’s comments later on in the night, Noel Ramsay said “there are millions to be saved” should the Town transition to OPP.

“There’s no question about it, change is always difficult. However, to just ignore it, or to avoid it in this case, can have significant adverse consequences that will spill over into affordability of so many other services in town,” Mr. Ramsay said. “We hope this Council will make a clear and decisive decision in 2019. We hope this Council will manage change proactively, instead of being forced into it later in a very disruptive manner that will hurt residents and quality of life in our community.”

Once again, a final decision regarding the future of policing services in Orangeville is to be voted on by Council on Nov. 25.

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