OPP billing complaint doesn’t go far
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | February 9, 2017
County councillors are disappointed with the Ontario ombudsman’s decision not to pursue their complaint about the OPP billing model.
Eight months ago, the county sent a letter to Paul Dube’s office requesting he investigate the model, which came into effect Jan. 1, 2015. In 2012, the auditor general determined the varying costs were not fair and that the model needed to be changed.
It was intended to create a more equal balance between base policing costs and calls for service (from a 73/23 split to 60/40) across all municipalities.
But it doubled costs locally, from $3.3 million per year to about $6.5 million after it came into effect. The ministry tried to soften the blow by implementing a five-year phase-in, now entering its third year.
Councillors have referred to the model as flawed many times because its calculation includes seasonal properties in its base charges, but does not take into account the fact these properties are only occupied five months of the year or less.
Another problem in their opinion is that industrial and commercial properties with multiple tenants are only considered one unit. These properties, such as a strip mall, may have multiple tenants that could generate a significant demand for policing services.
“While I understand that you disagree with the new billing structure, the specific approach the ministry takes regarding the billing formula for policing services delivered to municipalities is within its discretion,” wrote deputy ombudsman Barb Finlay in a letter to CAO Mike Rutter.
“It’s certainly not the answer we’re looking for,” Rutter told council on Jan. 25.
Finlay said the Ministry of Community and Safety Correctional Services and the OPP “engaged in extensive stakeholder consultations, in which the county participated, before arriving at the final model.”
In addition, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s (AMO) OPP billing steering committee supported the ministry’s decision to include seasonal properties.
Councillor Murray Fearrey said he understood why the ombudsman made this decision, but he felt AMO was supposed to act in the best interests of all municipalities.
“In this case, they represented the cities and left the rural municipalities with cottages under the bus,” said Fearrey.
“The government has the right to make policy, even if it’s not the policy that we want,” said County Warden Brent Devolin, adding the county “hasn’t given up the fight on this.”
“I’m just completely disappointed in seeing this,” said Councillor Liz Danielsen.
Before it came into effect, a group called the Mayors’ Coalition for Affordable, Sustainable and Accountable Policing (ASAP) was formed “to address the dysfunctional and unfair model,” according to a newsletter. Its steering committee included mayors from Tillsonburg, Cochrane, Penetanguishene, Norfolk and Parry Sound.
It lists the county and its four lower-tier municipalities as part of the 150-plus municipalities that endorsed the organization’s goals. But councillor Carol Moffatt said this was “absolutely untrue.”
“To me, there was a misrepresentation to AMO about the level of support via the mayors’ coalition’s effort that I believe played an integral role in the actions that AMO took,” said Moffatt.
“That’s the elephant in the room that’s never been addressed.”
But according to Peter Politis, a representative for ASAP and mayor of Cochrane, the municipalities in the county “were members who indicated they supported the cause to reform policing costs with the coalition but hadn’t donated funding to it.”
“We held several public sessions at conferences and on the telephone,” Politis told The Highlander. “But the official reach out was done through a request to each council and in that, the support was provided and in many cases further supported with donations.”
A document prepared by the county in July of 2014 for the then minister Yasir Naqvi backs Moffatt’s statements.
“Four townships in Haliburton County and the county itself listed as supporters. However, we do not have any records indicating this support,” it reads.
For more background on the billing model, visit the ministry’s website at news.ontario.ca/mcscs/en/2014/08/new-opp-billing-model.html.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.