There is no doubt in my mind that Meaford's councillors find themselves in a very difficult, confusing and frustrating position when it comes to the future of policing in the municipality.
The proposal submitted by the Owen Sound Police Service would, on paper at least, save the municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars over a five year period. Given that politicians and government staffers are constantly under pressure to find cost savings in order to control the need for future tax increases, the only move that makes sense is to take Owen Sound up on their offer.
Council could certainly justify such a decision, and if the savings were actually realized, then this council and senior staff team would indeed be heroes.
On the flip side, many in the community have expressed a desire to remain with the OPP even if it costs more. At a public meeting on the issue held last month at Woodford Hall, many of those present made it clear to members of council that they would prefer to have their community policed by the OPP even if it means paying a little more than what Owen Sound has proposed.
This is what our members of council have to grapple with. Two very sound positions, based on either a belief in the value of cutting costs, or leaving things as they currently are, even if it will cost more.
No matter which option Meaford's council ultimately supports, they could do so with solid reasoning backing them up.
Both options have legitimate concerns.
Future OPP costing is an unknown at present as the organization is in the midst of a review of their costing and billing models, and it could be argued that this uncertainty alone is reason enough to opt for the lower costs proposed by the Owen Sound Police Service.
On the other hand, valid questions have been raised about the Owen Sound proposal, which according to the Owen Sound Police Chief is complete, accurate, and guaranteed.
Some are amazed that Owen Sound can guarantee the proposed prices for the entire five years of the proposed contract.
What if in the fourth year, fuel prices skyrocket to $2.00 per litre or more?
Impossible you say?
Five years ago, Ontarians were paying an average price of $0.85 per litre. Over the past five years, that price has reached as high as nearly $1.40 per litre, and is currently sitting at roughly $1.30 per litre – an increase of more than 50 percent.
If fuel were to continue at that pace – and many are predicting significant increases in fuel in the coming years – then the same 50 percent increase over the next five years would put fuel pricing at $1.95 per litre.
On that one item alone, how can the Owen Sound proposal expect to adhere to pricing proposed today?
When asked the question of who will cover the difference if the Owen Sound numbers prove to be under-estimated, the Owen Sound Police Chief has only said that “the price is the price, your bill is your bill.”
If Meaford is guaranteed that the pricing will hold no matter what happens in the world and local economies, then in theory that would mean that any shortfall would be covered off by Owen Sound taxpayers – I wonder how they feel about taking that risk.
This is an incredibly important decision, with a host of considerations, and many unknowns on all sides of the issue.
So important is this issue, that I would suggest that it should be a ballot question for the October 27 municipal election.
Councillor Stephens will be bringing forward a resolution seeking a question on the ballot pertaining to the idea of changing the name of Meaford.
I would suggest that the question of who will police our community, and at what cost, is of even greater importance to Meaford ratepayers, and I can't think of a better issue to have Meaford residents vote on in the October election.
A second public meeting is to be held on the issue which will hopefully provide members of council more opinions and angles to consider.
But this is a no win situation for Meaford councillors – the views on both sides are strongly held – so let's put the decision in the hands of the people.
Either way we know we will get skilled, competent policing, the question is what will policing actually cost in the coming years, and is it worthwhile to undertake a transition to a new police service given all those unknowns?
There is no urgency – Meaford can cancel their service with the OPP at any time with just 30 days notice. Waiting a few extra months, and allowing the entire community of voters to decide is the safest option for members of council, and it is the best way to know what Meaford ratepayers really want for the policing of their community.