Final decision on local policing likely by October, says Mayor Brown

May 2, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Orangeville Council’s review of the previous council’s rejection of an Ontario Provincial Police takeover of local policing got underway Monday evening (April 29), with Mayor Sandy Brown hoping for a final decision by the end of October. 

A key issue during last year’s municipal election, Orangeville’s new Council made a statement of intent when, in their first meeting it unanimously supported a motion to request a new costing proposal from the OPP. The move once again called into question the future of the Orangeville Police Service, the community force installed back in 1864. 

Mayor Brown has long believed that the community’s previous Council made a mistake in narrowly rejecting an OPP contract  in 2017. During that process, Orangeville CAO Ed Brennan and former Treasurer Marc Villeneuve estimated the Town could eventually save as much as $4.3 million per year by accepting the provincial policing model. 

While Council had to wait almost two years for the previous costing process to begin, the OPP has since adopted a new billing model. Linda Davis, an OPP contract analyst, and Dufferin OPP Detachment Commander Nicol Randall were on hand at Monday night’s Council meeting just four months after Council made the new request. 

There, the pair went to great lengths to explain the OPP’s new billing model, but stopped short of offering up details or statistics that may be included in a new costing proposal.

“If a municipality decides to switch to OPP, they will first enter into a transition contract for a period of three plus years. The plus refers to any additional months required to reach the end of the current calendar year,” Ms. Davis said. “The transition contract is required to accumulate data to be used in a newer billing model.”

During the previous process, it was estimated the savings during that three-plus year transitional contract were negligible – in the region of $300,000. According to the numbers put forth by Orangeville’s CAO and former treasurer, only when the community was officially brought into the OPP’s billing model would significant savings be realized.

Ms. Davis said the OPP’s new billing model’s purpose is to apply a sense of equality and fairness to all municipalities policed by the provincial force. 

“Prior to (the new model being adopted), the method for billing was complicated, difficult to explain and based on many complicated measures. It also led to a wide disparity of policing costs throughout the province. Some municipalities were paying $50 per household, while others were paying well over $800 per household,” she said. “The billing model is based on the rationale that all OPP-policed municipalities should pay an equitable share for the provision of policing services. That no matter where they are located, either rural or urban, in northern Ontario or southern Ontario, there is a cost to have trained police officers available at any time of the day or night.”

Under that new billing model, which was introduced in 2015, policing costs are separated into two categories, Base Service and Calls for Service. 

The formula that decides Base Service cost is consistent among all 325 municipalities the OPP currently provides services to. According to Ms. Davis, a municipality’s Base Service rate is based on the number of properties in the community. Activities covered under that Base Service cost include legislated activities (which includes crime prevention, officer availability to respond to calls 24 hours a day, general and directed patrol and victim assistance), proactive policing (programs such as RIDE, traffic safety, community policing and intelligence gathering), officer training, administrative duties and all Inspector and Staff Sergeant positions.

Costs associated with the Calls for Service are specific to each municipality and are based on a community’s individual usage level. Activities covered under Calls for Service include all 911 crime calls (assaults, break & enter, mischief, drug offences etc.), provincial statutes (Mental Health Act, Trespass to Property Act, landlord/tenant disputes etc.), motor vehicle collisions and general calls for service (false alarms, lost property, missing person). 

There is a third component, which Ms. Davis described as Additional Costs, which covers overtime, court security, cleaning/caretakers, accommodations, prisoner transportation and any other particular enhancements requested by a municipality. Some municipalities, Ms. Davis states, don’t have any Additional Costs, while community’s like Orangeville, which houses a courthouse and provides prisoner transportation, will see additional charges. 

Ms. Davis declared that, in 2019, the OPP is set to recoup $410 million from municipalities policed by the provincial force. Of that, $216 million will come from Base Service, $156 million from Calls for Service and $38 million from Additional Costs. 

Using data gathered through the OPP’s Activity Reporting System, Ms. Davis noted that the average cost per property over the past five years for municipality’s policed by the OPP has remained “relatively stable”, varying between $350 and $360 per property. For comparison, in 2019 the Orangeville Police Service is expected to cost approximately $864 per household.

It is expected that the OPP will present their new costing proposal to Orangeville Council on May 27. Speaking to the Citizen, Mayor Brown said he hopes to avoid the type of arguments that plagued the previous process.

“The big takeaway from this presentation for me was that over the past six years, the average cost to property owners receiving OPP services has remained steady,” Mayor Brown said. “The rhetoric last time from OPS supporters was ‘how do you know what the future is going to bring, what the numbers will be’? We have it right from the OPP now that costing has been stable for five or six years. That was very telling for me.”

He added, “The other interesting thing, when you think about what (former mayor Jeremy Williams) was saying about being thrown into the lap of Kathleen Wynne (if we signed a contract with the OPP). Well, now we have Williams’ favourite fellow, Mr. Doug Ford. Now what are these people going to say?

The mayor said there would be a severe backlash from “any kind of move to increase costs significantly. If they do something like that, they’ll face the music in the next election, because, basically, the whole province is painted in OPP colours.”

The OPP budget is approximately $1.2 billion in 2019. With the 325 municipalities that make use of OPP services on the hook for approximately $410 million of that total in 2019, Queen’s Park will foot the remaining $790 million. That resembles something of a 65/35 split.

While Orangeville Council decided earlier this year not to include $100,000 in the 2019 budget to potentially pay for a consultant to prepare a comparative report between OPS and OPP, Mr. Brown indicated plans may have changed on that front.

“During the last go-around, for some reason there was distrust with Town staff and their calculations that was driven, largely, by pro-OPS people. Now, with some further reflection, if we bring in a third-party consultant to provide an unbiased opinion and comparison of the two forces, (it will) remove any doubt that the decision to go with OPP is not a bad one,” Mayor Brown said. “If you’re talking about savings of between $4 million to $5 million a year, that’s an enormous amount of money for this town. We cannot ignore that kind of financial decision.”

Mayor Brown indicated he was working alongside Mr. Brennan to establish a timeline for the policing debate. If the OPP delivers their proposal later this month, as expected, Mr. Brown hopes the Town will have a consultant in place sometime in June. A thorough examination, Mr. Brown believes, will take approximately 60 days to come through. 

“That will bring us to the end of summer,” Mayor Brown said. “I’d like us to host some public meetings in September after the consultant’s report has come in. If I had to bet, I would say a Council meeting in October might be the time when a final decision will be made.”

Currently, the Town has Council meetings scheduled on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, with meetings also scheduled to discuss the 2020 budget on Oct. 28 and 29. 

“If there’s one thing I found during this process last time, it was that there’s a lot of misinformation. I’m going to be making sure there’s clarity this time,” the mayor said. “Hopefully we’ll get to the truth through transparency and openness, and then, when the drapery gets pulled back, the decision will be an easy one for Council to make.”

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