By Stephen Vance, Editor
Like many smaller Ontario towns, Meaford is struggling with the increasing costs of policing. According to Meaford’s senior staff, roughly half of the 325 Ontario municipalities served by the Ontario Provincial Police have opted to ‘pay as they go’ rather than lock into a long-term contract, and escalating policing costs is one of the primary reasons for this.
For their part, the OPP are currently reviewing their billing process, which Meaford staff have characterized as complex, and when looking at surrounding communities and their policing costs, it is clear that the billing by the OPP is not only complex, but at first blush, seems inconsistent.
In 2012, Meaford paid slightly more than $1.7 million for policing within the municipality. According to the OPP, under that contract, which expired earlier this year (a six month extension of the contract expires in December), the $1,713,435 paid to the OPP by Meaford was the equivalent of $306 per year for each and every household in the municipality.
With the announcement on Monday, November 25, the most recent rate the OPP has given Meaford will mean nearly $2.2 million in policing costs in 2014, which brings the per-household cost to Meaford residents very close to $400 per year.
I don’t need to do the math for you. By anyone’s estimation, that is a whopper of an increase, and Meaford’s council and staff are left to try to explain to their ratepayers why more money needs to come out of their pockets.
What is most unfortunate is that while many people may assume that municipalities negotiate with the OPP for the cost of police services, the reality is that Ontario municipalities have essentially no leverage and no bargaining power when it comes to contracts with the OPP.
Instead, a complex and somewhat mysterious formula is used to determine what a municipality is required to pay.
This is where much of the confusion begins.
It is entirely reasonable for a Meaford ratepayer to ask why the $1.7 million paid to the OPP in 2012 translates into $306 per household, while the OPP’s own recent press release aimed at clearing up some of the confusion showed that in the same year, the Township of Georgian Bluffs paid slightly more than $1 million, which when the numbers are crunched is equal to $201 per household per year.
How is it that one municipality is billed $200 per household, while another just up the highway is requiring their ratepayers to fork over $300 per household, and will soon be paying nearly $400 per household?
Presumably, the complex formula used by the OPP to calculate what a municipality will pay for their police service considers many factors. One would presume that the formula takes into account not just population, and the physical size of the area to be served, but would also factor the number of schools, the number of establishments serving alcohol, and the historical crime rate of a given municipality among other things.
So when a ratepayer in Meaford, a town that has been identified by Statistics Canada as one of the safest communities in Canada (second in 2011), tries to make sense of drastic increases in policing costs, often their ire is aimed at the folks who send them the bill – the municipality.
Given the lack of negotiating power afforded to municipalities with regard to policing contracts, Meaford’s senior staff has been wise to seek a proposal from the Owen Sound Police services, and while awaiting that proposal the municipality will shift to a ‘pay as you go’ model rather than locking into a one year contract while the OPP reviews their billing system (according to Meaford staff, the OPP will not be signing any new contracts until 2015).
It is quite likely that the pending proposal from the Owen Sound Police Service will reflect little in the way of savings, but just in case, it is worth the exercise.
Whether Owen Sound can provide a more palatable fee for police services or not, Meaford’s council and staff can at least know that they explored every possibility within their very limited pool of possibilities.
The OPP is likely one of the finest police services in North America, but the costs are beginning to cripple municipalities, particularly smaller municipalities.
Policing has become expensive no matter which force we use, but it is reassuring that in Meaford, they’re trying everything possible to get the best value for money.