Railway funds, OPP transition discussed during Orangeville mayoral forum

October 6, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

As the municipal election on Oct. 24 draws nearer, it’s important for Orangeville residents to understand the views of those who are running.

With this in mind, the Dufferin Board of Trade (DBOT) held a mayoral forum last Wednesday (Sept. 28), where both mayor and deputy mayor candidates shared their views on various issues.

The evening was moderated by Doug Harkenss, who asked several questions to candidates, with each being given two minutes or less to answer.

How to use $32 million windfall

The Town of Orangeville recently sold real estate assets associated with the Orangeville Railway Development Corporation, for approximately $32 million. Candidates at the DBOT mayoral forum were asked how the money should be spent.

Mayor candidate Jeff Patterson, said his platform is to freeze taxes over the next four years, due to high level of taxes Orangeville already pays compared to other municipalities.

“A significant portion of the proceeds of the sale of the $32 million represents a recovery of the taxes that the taxpayers of Orangeville had to pay to other municipalities during the years in which that land was owned,” Patterson said. “It was a redundant asset for the town, and so it was wise to move it off the balance sheet – convert it to cash.”

He added that savings derived from the transition from Orangeville Police Service (OPS) to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and not paying nearly $500,000 in property taxes for the railway will help control taxation further.

Also running for mayor, Jeremey Williams said it’s not the town’s money, it’s the taxpayers’ money, and while he didn’t agree with the sale of the railway assets to acquire the $32 million, he would not support using it to reduce taxes.

With the money belonging to Orangeville taxpayers’, Williams said residents should be approached to decide how it should be spent.

“I would like to see some public engagement about long term projects or things that we need for this town, going long term, and then proceeding that way,” he said

Fellow mayoral candidate and current councillor, Lisa Post, said the money needs to stay in investments for two years while the town conducts a public consultation.

“Engaging the public to determine whether it’s used in recreation or in transit or in infrastructure or if it’s an investment in the arts, or if it’s something completely different, that needs to be up to the taxpayers of Orangeville,” said Post. “We need to do significant public consultation before we touch a dime of that money.”

Kim Reid, mayor candidate, said the town needs to invest the money, look at its reserves, and see what residents’ priorities are in the community.

“No, we can’t give everybody everything that they want, but we need to look at an overall whole. Is it families that are here, and we need to look at recreation? Is it seniors programs that would benefit? Is it infrastructure? What would be the best value for that money, and long term, we need to not just look at today, and poof, that money is gone,” said Reid.

She added that the town needs to have an identity for itself, beyond being a bedroom community, and this could be that opportunity.

Deputy mayor candidate Todd Taylor said he voted to sell the railroad and is confident in that decision, as it cost the town $450,000 in property taxes per year, and no other levels of government provided support for that cost.

He stressed that the $32 million should not be used to freeze taxes, as the sale of an asset shouldn’t be used to pay the bills.

“What I want to do is keep that money and spend it on something that the town wants and needs, that will be a long-lasting piece to this town in terms of a capital project,” Taylor said.

This could be for parks, recreations and employment lands, but he made clear that the final decision should be decided as a town.

The other deputy mayor candidate in the race, Trever Castiglione, said the people of Orangeville need to decide how the $32 million should be spent.

“It shouldn’t just be Council, there should be inputs from everyone, and I’m hoping that it can be done sooner than later,” he remarked.

Castiglione said while it’s great to put the money away to accrue interest, there are many needs within the town, such as improvements to Tony Rose. He stated that the facility isn’t going to last two or three years without a significant amount of money invested into it.

“But what else is going to crop up? What other needs are other people of Orangeville seeing that they want done?” he asked.

“There needs to be a significant campaign done by this council that is going to be voted in and town staff to get the people of Orangeville involved. Get their input, public meetings, online, every and any avenue possible, so that the people in Orangeville can actually have their true say, as to what’s done with these funds.”

Transition from OPS to OPP

Another question asked of candidates during the mayoral forum – how successful do you think the transition was from OPS to OPP, which came into effect on Oct. 1, 2020.

Kim Reid said she thinks the transition went smoothly and the town didn’t see any change in service.

“I don’t think we can make a determination yet, as to whether it was successful or not. We’re still under the three-year contract and once we’re being charged for calls for service, I think then we can make a determination whether or not we’re going to save money or if we made a mistake,” she noted. “Up until that point, I don’t think we can decide.”

Reid added that out of 58 officers that went from OPS to OPP, only six are left.

Post said she’s “extremely proud” of the decision to transition, while it was contentious and difficult, it was the right decision for the community from a safety and financial perspective.

She said the transition was seamless and the vast majority of OPS officers were offered positions with the OPP.

Post added that morale is higher than it’s been in years, and the OPP officers are present, accountable, and easy to talk to.

“There have been a lot of raids that have been conducted as a result of really long investigations through the OPP,” she said. “We’ve taken drugs off the street; we’ve enhanced road safety. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with that transition”.

Williams said the transition was a “terrible decision” but prefaced his comments by saying the OPP is a fine organization, but it is under provincial control.

While there is a police services board committee that meets, its ability to affect change within the OPP is gone forever, he said.

Williams also claimed that council was “sold a bill of goods” for the transition, and the cost savings shared by consultants aren’t going to be actualized.

“They [the OPP] are going to bill whatever they’re going to bill,” he remarked. “But regardless, whether you agree with me or not, the public should have been approached with a referendum or a plebiscite. If my council had decided to get rid of them, it would have gone for referendum.”

Patterson said it’s too early to determine if the transition to OPP has been successful but there are three elements for measuring its success – financial savings, safety, and police relationship with the community.

However, he did say he thinks it was the right decision.

Part of his challenge and requirement to council, if elected as mayor, is to make sure the town realizes the benefits of the transition that were identified by consultants, especially the financial aspects.

Patterson said in his personal experience, there has been an improvement to safety, as the OPS couldn’t deal with a particular house where illegal transactions were “obviously” occurring and within two months of the OPP taking over that activity stopped.

“One can only speculate why it took OPS so long, and in fact, never did deal with it,” he remarked.

Castiglione said he was very involved during the transition, speaking to council about possible issues and the consultant’s report.

He added that, with very few OPS members who transitioned still operating under Dufferin OPP and calls for service being higher than initially projects, he thinks the transition was a mistake that will cost the town long term.

During the daytime OPP are present, but Castiglione said himself and other residents don’t see them at night, and response times are longer.

“Don’t get me wrong OPP is out there. But they are trying to cover a much, much larger area than what OPS was,” he said.

Castiglione also said there’s less traffic enforcement now and less revenue coming in from tickets generated by the OPP.

Meanwhile, Taylor said the decision to transition was never about better service, as the officers working at both OPS and OPP are disciplined professionals who want to keep the town safe.

He lauded both the prior police chief of OPS and Dufferin OPP Detachment Commander for their work.

But he was the lone vote against the OPS to OPP transition in council’s 6-1 decision because he didn’t think the consultant was correct in saying the town would save $58 million by 2036.

Taylor said he continues to track the cost savings and the town isn’t hitting the numbers brought forward.

“We had to pay for pensions, we had to pay for a buyout, we had to pay for a police station. And it saddens me to think that we’ve got all this money sitting on our books when we didn’t have to have that,” he remarked.

“The calls for service, we don’t know what that is. The comments made earlier about knowing if they’re higher or lower – it’s hyperbole. We don’t know what they are. Once the contract is up… we’ll understand exactly what the costs are.”

Taylor added that even though he voted against the transition, he served as chair of the police services board to carry out the transition and supported council through it.

The municipal election is Oct. 24.

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