Meaford's newly elected council has made its first major decision, and they did so unanimously. At their December 8 meeting, council ended months of public debate with a unanimous vote in favour of continuing to have the Ontario Provincial Police deliver policing services for the municipality.
For the past year, Meaford has been entertaining a proposal from the Owen Sound Police Service to assuming policing duties in the municipality. Much of the public debate focussed on weighing potential cost savings by shifting to OSPS policing against the long standing relationship the OPP has in the community. A lack of concrete pricing from the OPP who have been revamping their costing and billing models over the last two years complicated the discussions on the issue, however in early October the OPP submitted their long-awaited revised pricing to the municipality.
According to the estimate provided by the OPP to Meaford, and subsequently issued to the media, the total anticipated policing costs for 2015 of $1.79 million, plus the municipal cost of $55,000 for the operation and maintenance of the detachment space Meaford provides to the OPP, for a total expected cost of $1.84 million.
By comparison, the proposal from the Owen Sound Police Service carried a cost of $1.83 million, plus $10,000 for the provision of a storefront office space, for a total expected cost of $1.84 million.
The expected costings for the OPP mean that the OSPS proposal was just $820 below the new costing for the OPP. The new OPP billing model is now based on the number of properties in a municipality, Meaford's per household cost provided by the OPP would be $307 per household, per year.
Before they had received the revised OPP costing, Meaford council opted to hire a consultant to help decide on the best policing options for the municipality. The consultant cost Meaford approximately $27,000, and their final conclusion in a report submitted to council on September 8, was that Meaford should choose based on the lowest price, as they determined that either police service would provide adequate and effective policing for Meaford.
Not all councillors agreed. Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield said that the lowest cost recommendation raised red flags for him, while Councillor Mike Poetker expressed concern about factors other than lowest cost that could have a significant impact on the community.
“Zeroing in on your statement that any decision we make be based on the lowest cost, I'm going to challenge that,” Poetker said to Rudy Gheysen of Asymmetric Consulting. “I suggest that it should be based on the greatest economic benefit, and the socio-economic benefit that we're not talking about.”
Poetker reminded his fellow councillors that should Meaford opt to switch police services, roughly 10 OPP officers who currently live in the municipality would likely be relocated, taking their incomes, and their taxes, and their buying power out of the community, while Owen Sound officers who would begin and end their shifts in Owen Sound are unlikely to relocate to Meaford.
“I think that's very important in our small town. It's a huge potential for loss of income in this community when you suddenly take out a large percentage of good wage earners,” offered Poetker.
The consultants had suggested in their report to council, which was prepared a month before the OPP costings were issued, that Meaford could save between $200,000 and $1.3 million over four years by switching police services, a savings of between $50,000 to $325,000 per year, though they conceded that it was difficult to estimate OPP costing as Meaford wouldn't receive a formal costing until late September at the earliest.
While the previous council had been divided on the issue, with two councillors having expressed strong support for the OSPS bid, Meaford's new council was unified in their decision to stay with the OPP for policing services.
“This has been going on for a very long period of time, and the entire municipality, I am very confident in saying, has been fully engaged in this, as it does affect everyone inside our municipality,” offered new Councillor Tony Bell, who said that Meaford residents had made it clear to him how council should vote on the policing issue.
Councillor Mike Poetker was pleased to see council finally ready to make a decision on the future of policing in the municipality. Poetker said that he and the other members of council “heard loud and clear” from residents during the recent election campaign that the support for remaining with the OPP, even if it were to cost more, was overwhelming.
“I am very happy to vote on this item tonight,” said Poetker prior to the council vote.
New Councillor Steven Bartley said that he would have been comfortable with either police force patrolling the municipality, and he hoped that some fences would be mended after some at times, heated debate on the issue.
“I've stated from the start that I don't care if it's an Owen Sound police officer, an OPP officer, a Meaford officer, or the RCMP, I believe they're all the same. I stated from the start that if the price is close, I would go with the OPP,” said Bartley. “I do support the OPP, but I also want to thank the Owen Sound Police Service, and apologize for some of the crap that was put to them in some of the meetings.”
As part of the resolution approved by council on December 8, a letter will be sent to the Owen Sound Police Services Board to indicate that Meaford will not move forward with their proposal, and thanks would be extended to both the OSPS Board, and the City of Owen Sound “for presenting their proposal and for participating in the public process.”