Meaford's council chamber was filled with representatives from both the Owen Sound Police Service and the OPP on Monday February 10 as municipal staff presented their report on police services in the municipality.
The message from staff was clear – a switch to the Owen Sound Police Service would save Meaford money, though councillors seemed to be concerned with more than just the bottom line as they consider the proposal submitted by Owen Sound.
In their report to council, municipal staff suggest that the savings could be anywhere between $794,000 to $2.4 million over the next five years when compared to the three options currently available from the OPP – a Section 10 contract, an enhanced Section 10 contract, or a Section 5.1 non-contract arrangement.
Currently Meaford utilizes the OPP for policing services with no contract as do roughly 170 Ontario communities. The no contract option is particularly popular with smaller municipalities. 167 Ontario municipalities under 15,000 in population have their police services provided by the OPP on a non-contract basis.
Compared to what Meaford currently pays for police services, Meaford Treasurer, Darcy Chapman, suggests in his report that $794,000 could be saved over a five year period, which would mean an average annual savings of roughly $158,000 per year.
If those savings were realized, Meaford would save roughly 1.5 percent on their annual operating budget.
While most municipal councils attempt to find savings wherever possible, some Meaford councillors questioned the accuracy of the Owen Sound proposal.
“$10,000 per vehicle, per year, for fuel costs? My math says that works out to 21 litres per day,” suggested Councillor Mike Poetker.
Owen Sound Police Chief, Bill Sornberger explained that he isn't yet sure if the proposed fuel costs were accurate.
“That calculation was based on, I believe, $55 per day over the two cars. But we don't know the distances because we haven't policed here, so we don't know what that is. But that is what we estimate the cost to be,” responded Sornberger.
Given that under the Owen Sound proposal officers policing Meaford would begin and end their shifts in Owen Sound, Poetker questioned whether the proposal had included enough for fuel costs.
“21 litres. Meaford is pretty big, it almost takes 20 litres to get across. My concern is, is that enough?” asked Poetker.
“It may not be enough,” conceded the Police Chief. “We would have to sit down at the end of the year and say 'this is what we have the price at,' but what we don't want to do is come back saying we need more money.”
Meaford Councillor Deborah Young questioned whether Owen Sound could provide the same quality of policing as the OPP.
“I'm concerned with the Owen Sound model. The question that I have is that there's really little difference between the two amounts (OPP vs OSPS). I have great respect for the OPP, so you're really going to have to do a selling job on me,” offered Young, who then questioned the Chief about whether his police service was up to the job of policing Meaford. “Do you play by the same rules as the OPP? I have to say that I have a couple of concerns because of the feedback I've been getting from the public. I've been hearing only bad things about the Owen Sound Police Service. The OPP has always been really good, so I'm concerned about this.”
“I'm sorry to hear that,” responded Chief Sornberger adding that his police force is equally well trained, and follows all legislation and policy relating to policing in Ontario. “We have to play by the same rules.”
The Chief said that a recent Ministry inspection of the Owen Sound Police Service found only four minor issues with wording in policy and procedures.
“So we're not getting Barney Fife?” asked Young.
“You are not getting Barney Fife,” responded the Chief.
Chief Sornberger also assured Councillor Barb Clumpus that there would be no unexpected surprises.
“Your bill is your bill. Your cost is your cost,” assured the Chief.
Clumpus also expressed concern about whether the Owen Sound Police Service could manage such a contract with another municipality given that it is uncharted territory for the OSPS. Chief Sorberger pointed out that he has had experience with managing dispatch contracts for the municipalities that utilize Owen Sound for emergency service dispatch.
Representatives from the OPP were present, and Grey County OPP Detachment Commander Inspector Mike Guilfoyle answered some questions from council, mostly outlining the service currently provided by the OPP. OPP Staff Sergeant Rod Case requested a meeting with the municipality to discuss the information presented in the staff report to council.
Before council makes any decision on the future of policing in Meaford, a public meeting will be held on Thursday February 13 at 6:30 pm at Woodford Hall to allow residents to ask questions and express their opinions.