At the last Orangeville Council meeting, OPP made a presentation in which the long-awaited OPP costing report was provided. The report and presentation were thorough, highlighting the services that would be included, the basic costs for these services, and some of the start-up costs for the switch-over.
It was, perhaps, one of the most attended council meetings I have been to. The gallery was packed, and a number of us were ushered upstairs to the Opera House to watch the live stream of the meeting over the internet. There was no public question and answer period, although it was recommended by the OPP to host an open house to allow for residents to receive more information.
OPP staff were extremely professional, attempting to answer as many questions as they were able to by council, and breaking down explanations of services.
Should Orangeville decide to pursue OPP, we would be looking at an initial three-year contract, which is the estimated time it takes to complete a full transition from local policing to a provincial force. The base costing for each of those three years would be $7.8 million, plus a one-time startup cost of approximately $1 million. Compared to the current 2017 OPS budget of $8.2 million (after a $1.4 million decrease due to revenues), that means the first year, at the least, we would see an increase of $600,000, and in years two and three, a savings of approximately $400,000, should Orangeville be satisfied with the base services provided.
While all officers will be absorbed by the OPP, from the sounds of the discussion, not all officers will remain in Orangeville or Dufferin County. Also, while civilian employees of the OPS will have the opportunity to apply for jobs, they are not guaranteed. The number of civilian positions in Orangeville would be decreased significantly should a transition occur, with up to 27 people losing their jobs. Those 27 employees include administration, operators, special constables/court guards, and other positions within the detachment.
It’s also important to note that of that $1 million in additional startup costs, severance pay for those 27 civilians is not included. Nor are any of the following: costs of maintaining a Police Services Board, costs associated with storage of electronic and physical records, disposal of assets, costs to modify the OPS facility to OPP guidelines, and pension divestment.
In the presentation, it was confirmed that the OPP is already aware the current OPS building does not meet the current requirements to house the provincial police. However, until a thorough review has been conducted of the facilities, they cannot provide any estimate of the cost the Town will face for this renovation.
At this point, it isn’t fully clear what the base services include, beyond having seven officers in town per shift, but it sounds as if most of the things Orangeville has come to enjoy, such as having ‘beat’ officers patrolling Broadway on foot, would come at an additional cost to the Town.
There is a lot of information to take in when it comes to the costing and there is a lot more to come. Council has asked Police Chief Wayne Kalinski to make a similar presentation in order to allow them to compare ‘apples to apples’, so-to-speak. Although, as some have pointed out on Social Media, due to the different nature of the services provided, it’s hard to quantify the comparisons on the same level.
But maybe that’s where the answer lies. While the OPP do a phenomenal job in many of the communities they patrol, it’s no secret that there are towns that have become seriously disenfranchised with their services.
Orillia, the city which houses the main OPP headquarters, has been fighting to go back to a municipal police force since 2013. Just a few weeks ago, it was revealed in the Orillia Packet & Times that Ramara Township that one of the areas covered by the Ontario Provincial Police has seen their costs for OPP double in the past year. When the publication reached out to the OPP for comment on the situation, the response was “[the] Township of Ramara will be paying less than a third of what Toronto is paying.”
And of course, just prior to Orangeville’s costing presentation, Brockville rejected the proposal by OPP, voting it down immediately following the presentation.
While I have been an avid supporter of the OPS since Chief Kalinski took over, I went into the meeting knowing that if the OPP costing was considerably lower, there would be little choice but to consider it. Based on the idea that we’re looking at a maximum of $400,000 in savings, but only after the first couple of years, I have to ask why Council is even thinking about moving forward.
Up to 27 people would be out of work. In a town where one of the biggest complaints is the lack of jobs here, it surprises me that some people would be so flippant over the loss of that many positions within our community. Although the OPP have indicated they would require 10 civilian positions, they could not respond to the question about whether those 10 would come from the 27 currently employed – only that those 27 would be eligible to apply.
There was no discussion on whether there would be any actual revenue to apply to decreasing the costs of OPP in Orangeville. After reading up on comments in some other communities with OPP, it became clear that while there is some revenue, it is not nearly as high as the potential revenue stream from a municipal police force. As it stands right now, OPS brings in a revenue of $1.4 million. Should we continue with our local force, three fire departments have accepted a proposal by OPS to service their 9-1-1 calls, and one local community has expressed interest in a contract to have OPS service their municipality as well. This would create additional revenue streams, further cutting the police budget costs.
Whereas, when it comes to OPP, many communities have seen a drastic increase year after year in costs, and without the additional revenue from a local force, the taxpayers have been left footing a hefty bill.
For a potential of up to $400,000 in savings, it just doesn’t make sense to do that. Especially when that $1 million in startup costs does not include the required renovations and several other one-time costs that are yet to be determined. Depending on what’s required, we could actually see no savings and only extra costs in this three year period.
The complaint in Orangeville for years, and even more so with the most recent council, has been our drastically increasing tax bills. And while there was a time when police services was a nasty culprit of those increases, it’s not anymore. Over the past two years, the OPS budget has seen a 0% tax increase; meanwhile, Town Council has been unable to critically evaluate and cut costs in other areas. And let’s face it, a $400,000 savings is not going to have much of an impact on your tax bill. For a couple of dollars of potential savings – which, based on the experiences of many other communities won’t last long – we would be eliminating jobs, losing services, and being tied to the OPP, something that is not easy to come back from.
The wisest decision here is to stick with the OPS and allow them to continue to improve. If they don’t, there’s nothing to say we can’t revisit the OPP down the road. In my opinion, there’s no need for a public meeting, an additional report by OPS, or anything else from OPP. For $400,000 of potential savings, it’s not worth it.
This column appeared in the February 23, 2017 edition of the Orangeville Citizen.