Something has been bothering me about the Owen Sound Police Services proposal for assuming policing duties in the Municipality of Meaford, and it has nothing to do with the quality of service or the proposed costs and potential cost savings identified by staff.
What's been bothering me about this whole issue comes down to human nature.
What's in it for Owen Sound?
I'm not suggesting anything untoward or shady is going on, I just can't wrap my head around why Owen Sound would bother with hiring a consultant, preparing a proposal for the Municipality of Meaford, and having their police chief and other representatives attend several evening meetings in Meaford where they've been bombarded with questions and doubts, when, according to everything we've seen and heard thus far, there is nothing in it for Owen Sound.
Zip, zilch, zero.
Owen Sound will benefit in no way if they were to assume the policing responsibilities in Meaford.
That defies human nature.
We are asked to believe that Owen Sound stands to gain nothing if they assume policing duties in Meaford. We are asked to believe that the proposed contract, which would span five full years, is absolutely guaranteed: no extra costs, no surprise reconciliations, no adjustments should fuel prices soar, no renegotiation if Owen Sound finds that their projected costs turn out to be inadequate. “The price is the price”, after all, according to Owen Sound's police chief.
We humans are a selfish species, and acts of pure charity and selflessness are rare – especially when there is money involved.
So why all this effort from Owen Sound if there is no benefit to their municipality?
What would Meaford residents think if Meaford were courting a neighbouring municipality to provide a major service – just for fun, let's use snow plowing as an example – on a contract basis for five years, and in the process, a consultant is hired, a proposal is put together, and Meaford claims to the neighbouring community that Meaford will in no way benefit; and as an extra bonus, Meaford would be willing to guarantee the proposed price even if faced with cost overruns?
Would Meaford residents trust that they wouldn't have to cover a single penny to subsidize the cost of service to that municipality even if the projected numbers don't hold?
Perhaps more importantly, would Meaford's treasurer or CAO sign that contract with no clause for an annual cost review and adjustment? Would Meaford's CAO and treasurer take that risk? Would Meaford staff really take the chance that four years down the road their iron-clad five year price guarantee hasn't held due to unexpected increases in costs, and due to the iron-clad contract and guarantee to the other municipality, the only way to recover the additional costs is to dip into the pockets of Meaford taxpayers?
I doubt that Meaford residents would support it, and I doubt Meaford's senior staff would sign such a document.
On the other hand, if the pitch to Meaford residents included the potential benefit of a major injection of revenue to the municipality, there might be more support for assuming the costs and staff time required to prepare a proposal. That's human nature.
One Meaford resident who attended this week's public meeting on the policing options for Meaford told members of council that, in his many years of experience preparing proposals and budgets for various companies and service providers, the statement from the Owen Sound police chief that “the price is the price” is, in his words, “There's a whole bunch of warning signs that start flashing in front of me.”
I would have to agree. And I will provide another example of why both Meaford and Owen Sound residents should be concerned – not with the quality of service either police force would provide, not even whether the Owen Sound Police Service believes in their own numbers, but in how much homework has been done in preparing the OSPS proposal.
When the Owen Sound police chief was asked about radio communications for officers in every corner of this very large municipality, the chief assured the resident that they had conducted a study and they are confident that radio communications will not be an issue.
That's all fine and good, but when the resident asked if a copy of the study could be provided, the chief back-pedalled and said that there was no actual report.
The resident was appropriately confused by that response and so he pressed further, and the response from the chief was somewhat surprising.
“So if I write it down, what I just said, it makes it right, but if I tell you, it doesn't make it right?” the chief replied.
I don't doubt that the chief has conducted tests to ensure radio coverage is adequate in every corner of the 588 square kilometres that is the Municipality of Meaford. I don't doubt that the Owen Sound police chief is confident in the proposal provided to Meaford. I don't think anyone is trying to deceive anyone.
Blind faith, though, is a lot to ask when millions of dollars and the safety of the community is at stake.
Owen Sound however seems extremely confident in the numbers they have provided, and they have remained steadfast in their insistence that “the price is the price”.
So still I wonder, what's in it for Owen Sound?