Update: see previous posts – March 9, 2014 Toronto:Rob Ford Gives 40% of Toronto Police Over $100,000 in Wages in 2013, January 27, 2014 O.P.P.: Highest Paid Police Force in Province, May 10, 2011 McGuinty Agrees to 14.06% Minimum Raise for OPP Officers Without Arbitration by 2014, May 5, 2011 Toronto Police – Highest Paid in Country
The OPP is locked into an ongoing struggle with municipalities complaining that rising policing costs are driving up property taxes.
The Ontario Provincial Police is locked into an ongoing struggle with municipalities complaining that rising policing costs are driving up property taxes — in some cases dramatically.
The provincial police contend their proposed per household cost of $360 is good value and half the price of most municipal forces, while municipalities say the hike is too much to bear — with some seeing their policing budgets double.
Helping fuel the debate is a recent 8.5 per cent pay-hike for 6,300 OPP officers, making them the highest paid in the province. The catch-up follows two years of no increases.
“What it is going to do is take over $5 million out of county without any increases in service,” Haliburton County warden Dave Burton, told the Star, adding the cost of policing in his municipality of Highlands East alone is climbing to $1.2 million from just over $600,000.
Burton said the proposed tax hikes as result of policing costs among the county’s four municipalities range from 25 per cent to 36 per cent.
As it is now, according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), some municipalities are paying as little as about $100 a household while others are paying up to $1,000 a household.
An OPP billing steering committee, consisting of municipal representatives, is exploring the impact of what the provincial police is recommending, variations of that or a new billing model altogether. The province wants whatever is arrived at to be in place for 2015.
OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis told the Star it has been a difficult exercise trying to balance the cost of policing 324 municipalities without one municipality having to carry the burden for another.
“The costs will just be apportioned in a more fair, consistent and transparent way. This comes as a result of concerns expressed to us by many municipalities, who have been, on average, paying much higher rates than neighbouring communities. Others have paid far less than they should have been for many years,” he said.
Lewis said while it may be an issue for communities struggling to balance the books, the average cost per household of $360 “is still cheaper than cable TV or water, to receive 24/7 quality police service.”
Roughly a third of the $1-billion OPP bill is covered by municipalities while the provincial government picks up the remainder. The Police Services Act requires municipalities to provide policing.
Prior to 1998 rural municipalities did not pay for policing. Then Progressive Conservative Mike Harris’s government downloaded some of the cost to all municipalities.
AMO executive director Pat Vanini, executive said there is a “lot of anxiety in the municipal sector” and noted that even the auditor general has concluded the way municipal governments are billed by the OPP is too complex and needs to be simplified.
“The OPP has been working on that part of the auditor’s report and certainly has tried to make things more simple. Notice I haven’t said more transparent,” she said, adding the force came up with a formula that calls for 73 per cent of expenses going to cover basic infrastructure and overhead, and 27 per cent going to fee-for-service costs.
As a result, Vanini said some of the AMO members policed by the OPP are looking at 45 to 50 per cent property tax increases.
“I would say . . . probably one-third (of the municipalities) will see their costs come down and about two-thirds will see their costs go up under this existing formula,” she said. “The real question is how sustainable are these increases?”
As the debate rages on, Vanini said, some smaller municipalities are even musing about starting up their own regional police forces. However, the OPP says the cost of that would be far in excess what they pay now.
The Ontario auditor general’s 2012 report noted that while crime rates and serious accidents have dropped substantially over the past several years, OPP costs to municipalities have increased by 27 per cent,
“Most of the increase has resulted from the hiring of additional officers and staff compensation increases over the last six years. However, our research did indicate that many of the other larger police forces across Canada have had similar expenditure increases,” the report stated.
OPP Superintendent Rick Philbin, of the municipal policing bureau, said the force understands the municipal concerns but “we can’t give deals to municipalities based on the ability to pay.”
“That’s just not the way we do business. We are half the price of every other municipal police department on average . . . when you put it into perspective it is going up to a buck a day. If you are in Toronto your cost is four bucks a day,” Philbin told the Star.
“We’ve developed what we believe is a fair model to recover the cost of policing across our 324 municipalities. It is still up for refinement,” he said.