OPP billing alternative even worse for county
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | April 17, 2014
Several county councillors weren't pleased with the answers they were getting during a private webinar with representatives of the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) on April 11.
The purpose of the meeting was to review the work of the AMO's OPP billing steering committee and their key findings regarding the new OPP billing formula. The revised model could increase policing costs in Haliburton County by $5 million in 2015, from $3.3 to 8.5 million. It's estimated that this would equate to $369 per household.
Those in attendance included county councillors Barb Reid, Murray Fearrey, Carol Moffatt, Liz Danielsen, county treasurer Laura Janke, Minden Hills treasurer Lorrie Blanchard and CAO Nancy Wright-Laking.
"The pot has boiled over, and most significantly since the pot has boiled over the burner is still on," said Matthew Wilson, AMO senior advisor, while reading report highlights from the steering committee.
"We are in this boat because of provincial action and inaction."
According to the committee's report, the Auditor General (AG) report in 2012 noted that municipal billing for OPP service, which dated back to 1998, was both complex and lacking in transparency. It also highlighted a large disparity in what different municipalities were paying for OPP services.
After the AG report was released, the OPP developed an alternative model last fall that would create a 73/27 per cent split between a base cost with a calls for service component. Base costs are calculated on a per household basis.
While the new model would turn some "losing" municipalities into "winners" – those who were paying more but will now pay less – other communities, such as all four of the municipalities in Haliburton County, are facing significant increases.
The steering committee, which is comprised of representatives from several municipalities, was formed in February to review the proposed model and consider possible alternatives. Their final report was sent to Yasir Naqvi, the newly appointed Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and the OPP on April 10.
Wilson said the steering committee was faced with a difficult task.
"Obviously it's an issue that attracts a lot of emotion, and some fear and concern about what the repercussions are going to be," he said. "AMO's board facilitated this group of municipal elected officials to see if, through the committee, we could find a better billing model... that would be acceptable to the different interests of the municipal sector."
Wilson pointed out that the committee's job was to analyze "the sector-wide impacts only" and therefore were "blind to the local circumstances."
The committee's key findings were that the province is correcting a provincial billing situation it created, and that it's the province's responsibility to mitigate the impact on taxpayers as a result of any billing changes.
"The steering committee confirmed that a base cost and calls for service concept was reasonable and the estimated 60/40 split was more representative of the distribution of overhead and supervisory costs etc.," stated the report.
The committee also felt that a half-and-half approach (50 per cent household and 50 per cent weighted assessment) had merit because it holds a measure of community.
County councillor Barb Reid, who sits on the AMO steering committee, wasn't in support of either of the two models.
"I cannot support the AMO steering committee report because the two models recommended to the government are flawed," she wrote in an email. "In fact, I think the entire process was flawed because the committee was never presented with any facts to support the going-in hypothesis that some municipalities are paying too much and others are paying too little."
Reid said that at no point in time was the committee given an explanation as to why the per household calculation was the best way to measure relative policing costs.
"Several members of the steering committee tried to open this up for discussion but we were consistently shut down by some members in the room, most of whom had the most to gain from using the per household metric," she said.
The other process flaw, said Reid, was that no actual cost implications of the various models were shared with the committee. She explained that county staff assembled actual current and proposed financial implications based on the 73/27 split and made that information available to AMO staff. However, it wasn't permitted to be shared with the committee members.
"Without demonstrating the actual financial implications of the various models, how can anyone fully understand the impact?" she asked.
In Reid's opinion, the committee should have considered models that are 100 per cent weighted assessment, 100 per cent population (the RCMP model), or a combination of the two.
"Only once these models have been fully examined can a committee then make a call on what seems to be a fair and reasonable billing allocation by municipality."
During last week's internet meeting, AMO staff accepted questions from the nine attendees via a chat window. County treasurer Laura Janke was first to type in a query, which led to several more.
"Were all the members of the committee in agreement with this report?" she asked.
Pat Vanini, AMO executive director, responded to Janke but did not provide a yes or no answer.
"I think the answer to that question is that the members of the committee wanted to use the facilitative process to see if there was a greater common ground that could be achieved," said Vanini.
In an email sent to the media on April 14, Janke attached a chart with numbers using the AMO's proposed model.
"The county ends up slightly worse off than with the $369 model," she wrote. "We still do not know what our costs would be on the calls per service, and can only assume the average."
According to the data Janke provided, the county would face an increase of $5,261,609 with the AMO's weighted model, while the increase based on a calculation of $369 per household would come in at $5,248,815 – a difference of nearly $13,000.
Janke said the county is investigating and proposing another new model that includes business in the per household metric, which will "increase the number of households and would benefit county taxpayers."
On May 1, the county will host a Day of Action to encourage the public to voice their concerns about the proposed billing model. Those interested in participating should send an email, letter or Tweet to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Naqvi, or call their offices. The Twitter hashtag is #OPPMayDay.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander and somehow also finds time to volunteer all over the place. You might have heard him on Go With the Flow with Mark and Mo on Canoe Radio (he’s Mark, obviously), and you might have seen him at the local bowling lanes working up a sweat. Mark probably understands technology more than most of us at The Highlander, so be sure to follow him on Twitter for news updates and thoughts as he’s out and about.