OPS Chief says Town’s policing decision should be about more than just money

April 6, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

Sparks were flying on a potentially “game changing” night at Town Hall on Monday as Orangeville Council once again reopened the debate surrounding the future of local policing.

It was a roller coaster evening that kicked off with a passionate plea from members of the Orangeville Police Service (OPS) as they attempted to convince Council that they provide the best all-around package for policing services in the community, and culminated with Town Treasurer Marc Villeneuve’s conclusion that a switch-over to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) could eventually save taxpayers about $4.5 million a year.

After hearing a full, in-depth costing proposal from OPP administration in February, Council last month asked Town staff to put together a complete evaluation of the numbers provided. Mr. Villeneuve did not disappoint, presenting a nearly 50-page package that completely broke down the OPP’s bid to take over policing in the town.

He discussed the OPP’s billing model, rolled out in January 2015, stating that once the municipality had completed a mandatory three-year transitional contract with the OPP it would see “significant annual savings” in police costs.

“The OPP billing model, in my opinion, is a game changer. It’s an entirely different way of billing municipalities for the service it provides,” Mr. Villeneuve said. “There would be significant annual savings anticipated once that model kicks in at about $4.5 million per year.”

The new model replaced a system of charging municipalities that was based entirely on call volumes with a “fairer” structure now in place that sees each of the 323 communities the OPP now serves pay a flat rate based on the number of properties each community has. There are extra charges for service calls, overtime and prisoner transportation.

Mr. Villeneuve noted the Town could expect to pay roughly $416 per property under this new billing model – $62 more than the provincial average of $354. He noted that would be a “significant difference” between what the municipality currently pays per property for the OPS – a hefty $864. Neighbouring communities that rely on the OPP for police services include the Town of Mono, which pays $349 per property, East Garafraxa ($306 per property) and Grand Valley ($290).

Currently, the municipality spends about $9 million per year for its Orangeville Police Service. Should council decide to disband the force and move into an agreement with the OPP, Mr. Villeneuve says it would save less than $1 million during a three-year transitionary contract because of costs involved with breaking up OPS ($2.7 million in severance payments, $500,000 in building upgrades) – but then anywhere between $4.7 million and $4.9 million annually between 2021 and 2025. In an eight-year span, the Town could stand to save as much as $25 million.

In addressing Council, Police Chief Wayne Kalinski said this decision should be about more than just money.

“This is not all about dollars and cents. It would be pretty cut and dry if it were. This is about people,” Chief Kalinski said. “This is about the people that support our service, this is about people keeping jobs in Orangeville, working in Orangeville, living in Orangeville. Every member of Council claims to be intimately connected to the community, and being connected means knowing what your constituents think. I can tell you that your constituents love OPS, I hear it daily. I ask that you keep that in mind when considering whether or not to keep jobs in Orangeville and whether or not you want to retain the OPS.”

With a jam-packed gallery watching on, numerous residents made their feelings known, with all seemingly in support of Chief Kalinski, Sgt. Dave McLagen, who led the OPS presentation, and the numerous other OPS employees in attendance. One such observer, was Sgt. Doug Fry, President of the Orangeville Police Association.

“I’ve been an officer here for 20 years and morale is the highest I’ve ever seen it – our members are proudly equipped to handle any situation and our residents are receiving the kind of service they deserve,” Sgt. Fry said. “There’s no evidence to suggest we would be better off if we changed, I’d encourage you to consider the old premise of if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Let other communities be the testing ground for OPP.”

And that suggestion that policing service led by the OPP would be no better than that now provided by OPS was key for many of those who raised their concerns at Monday night’s meeting.

Currently, the OPS is made up of 42 uniformed police officers and 27 civilian staff members. Should the OPP take over, they have committed to providing the equivalent of 42.58 uniform officers, while reducing the number of civilian employees to 10, resulting in at least 17 local residents losing their jobs.

While he admitted that Mr. Villeneuve and Mr. Brennan had done a fantastic job putting such an extensive report together on relatively short notice, Mayor Jeremy Williams wasn’t impressed by what he saw in the report, going so far as to say he had “little confidence” in the numbers presented, despite staff’s insistence that the projections were solid.

“My greatest concern isn’t that staff didn’t do a complete and thorough job of estimating what the costing would be following the three-year transitional period, my concern is that the OPP themselves have said they don’t know what the numbers will be,” Mayor Williams said. “Because the OPP is partially funded by the provincial government, it’s hard to say what the numbers are going to be two or three years from now because they’re entirely dependent on the decision of politicians at Queens Park and the OPP knows that, which is why they won’t comment on the record as to what the figure is likely to be.”

According to Mr. Villeneuve, it costs roughly $1 billion annually for the OPP to operate across Ontario. At this time, the Province funds roughly 60 percent of that total, with the remaining 40 percent covered by the 323 municipalities the OPP serves. Mayor Williams says he would be concerned about switching over to a model whose costs are predominantly decided by the provincial government.

“We know what the OPS costs us, we have control over what the OPS costs us,” Mayor Williams said. “I would be very, very concerned if we, as a council, made the decision to switch over to OPP because, on the face of it, things may seem a little cheaper because we don’t know what the future governments of the day are going to do with that OPP funding formula. It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz – it looks great from the outside, but it’s not quite as rosy as it appears once you’re in there.”

Councillor Sylvia Bradley appeared to disagree with that sentiment when she shared her thoughts with the Citizen after the meeting, saying she was comfortable trusting the numbers Mr. Villeneuve provided.

“When I first saw the reports, from my perspective I expected them to be somewhat near what was presented, so it wasn’t a huge shock or surprise to me. I think a lot of people are very surprised because you’re looking at close to 50 percent in savings per year… There’s a very significant difference between the two totals,” Ms. Bradley said.

She added, “I feel very comfortable with the numbers Marc provided – he included a lot of contingencies in there and for the most part included higher numbers than he felt there was potential for. I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual totals came in less, if I’m being completely honest.”

And while Mayor Williams was not shy in sharing the fact that he stood wholly behind OPS on this issue, he said that wasn’t necessarily because of his personal thoughts on the matter, but more so because of what he has heard from the community over the past few months.

“The community doesn’t want the OPP, they want OPS and that, quite frankly, makes my decision for me. It’s an easy decision for me to make because it’s the people of Orangeville that are making it and I respect them,” Mayor Williams said. “I’ve heard very few people say they don’t care about the level or quality of service and say they simply want to go with the cheaper option. At the end of the day, I’m really wanting to do what most of Orangeville wants to do here. That’s my role, that’s my job as mayor right now and, based on the input, I know I’m going to be supporting OPS.”

The issue will be officially put to the people at a public information session, slated to be held at Orangeville District Secondary School the evening of April 27.

Mayor Williams says he thinks after that it will be a quick turnaround for Council to make an official decision on the matter.

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