By Steven Starr
After a proposal from the Owen Sound Police Service, Meaford is exploring its policing options. In part one of a three part series, retired OPP officer Steven Starr explores policing costs, and the many considerations Meaford’s staff and council will need to take into account as they weigh their options.
Firstly, for those who don’t already know, I am a retired OPP officer so naturally you might conclude that my opinion is biased. On the other hand, if you take the time to verify the facts I have provided you will find they are an accurate reflection of the most current information, rendering my personal opinion and motives inconsequential and leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
I have lived in the Municipality of Meaford (Sydenham) for 27 years and intend to spend the remainder of my life here, so both sustainable tax rates and effective policing are important to me.
An article in the Sun Times, headlined “City offers cheaper policing,” appeared the day after the Owen Sound Police Service made their pitch to assume policing in Meaford. In the article, Mayor of Owen Sound Deb Haswell touted the quality of the proposal and called for a speedy decision as the story reverberated throughout Grey-Bruce.
Meaford’s current arrangement with the OPP would allow us to discontinue service with just 30 days’ notice, so I question the need for a quick reply. A decision should be made when, and only when, council is thoroughly convinced it is the right one.
The numbers cited below were obtained from official publications, including Police Resources in Canada, Municipal Financial Information Returns, and the Auditor Generals’ report. All of these documents are public, available online and are referenced in detail at the conclusion of this piece. The Mayor and council have asked for input from ratepayers and my intent is to help residents become informed for that purpose. Let’s start with some questions and answers concerning policing costs both here and elsewhere in Ontario:
Is OPP policing more expensive?
The Auditor General of Ontario noted in his 2012 report that OPP costs were 35-60% lower than municipal services1. In Grey County municipal police services provide policing to 41,464 residents for a combined cost of $13,286,679 or $345.13 per capita2 and the OPP provides policing to the remaining 41,693 residents at a cost of $6,772,817 or $173.02 per person. In the population category of 15,000-49,999 the cost of OPP policing was, on average, half that of municipal policing as indicated in a chart in the Auditor’s report.
How do the policing costs in Meaford measure against other area municipalities?
Of the eight municipalities in Grey County, four have higher policing costs than Meaford. The cost of OPP policing in Meaford is lower than the per capita costs of any municipal police service within Grey or Bruce County3.
Have policing costs risen dramatically in Meaford?
Prior to its disbandment in 2002, the Meaford-Thornbury Police Service served a population of 6,453 at a cost of $182 per person4. The OPP currently polices an urban/rural population of 11,100 within the Municipality of Meaford at a cost of $165 per person5, or $17 per person less than 12 years prior.
Why is Mayor Richardson openly critical of the cost of OPP policing?
The cost of policing in Meaford dropped from $182 to $122 per person when the OPP initially assumed policing duties in 2004 and has increased to the current level. Interestingly, the Owen Sound Police Service, who now propose to police Meaford at reduced cost, has seen its policing costs balloon at a rate 2.5 times greater than that of Meaford OPP. For instance, the cost of policing in Owen Sound has climbed from $181 per capita in 2002 to $358.63 in 20126. This cost is more than double what the Municipality of Meaford currently pays.
Are policing costs the primary driver in Meaford’s property tax increase?
Taxation revenues in Meaford have increased from $5,349,498 in 2004 to $12,257,900 in 2013 according to Meaford’s 2013 Statement on Taxation. That rate of increase is quadruple the rise in OPP policing costs over the same period. According to the same document, approximately 46% of the taxes collected support the operations and services of the Municipality of Meaford, 26% goes to Grey County, 19% to school boards, and 9% for policing.
Using the municipalities’ own figures in the “2013 Statement on Taxation”, a person with an average home in town or a similar residence with acreage in the rural area of the municipality would have experienced a tax increase of approximately $1,000 from 2004-2014. Without getting into the complexities of “area rating”, the portion of that increase attributable to policing costs over that 10 year span would be about $90.00 according to my calculations.
Choosing a police service is a long term investment which involves a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment. Past results don’t guarantee future performance, but the alternative is a risky venture based on speculation. Most investors only speculate with money they can afford to lose. The Municipality of Meaford is not in that position.
1 – Source, Auditor Generals’ report 2012, Chapter 3, section 3.1, page 247 www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_en/en12/310en12.pdf
2 – Source, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing-Performance Measures and Financial Information Returns for 2012, schedule 91 http://csconramp.mah.gov.on.ca/fir/ViewFIR2012.htm#4200
3 – Source, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing-Performance Measures and Financial Information Returns for 2012, schedule 91 http://csconramp.mah.gov.on.ca/fir/ViewFIR2012.htm#4200
4 – Source, Police Resources in Canada 2002, http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2008/statcan/85-225-X/85-225-XIE2002000.pdf
5 – Municipality of Meaford 2013 Tax Supported Operating Budget
6 – Source, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing-Performance Measures and Financial Information Returns for 2012, schedule 91 http://csconramp.mah.gov.on.ca/fir/ViewFIR2012.htm#4200
& Police Resources in Canada 2002, http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2008/statcan/85-225-X/85-225-XIE2002000.pdf