By Chad Ingram
Published April 21, 2016
Haliburton County council has voted to appeal to the Ontario Ombudsman on the OPP billing model, and while that’s something, the municipality should not rule out investigating the creation of its own police force.
As any regular reader of this newspaper will be aware, 2015 was the first year of a five-year phase-in of the new billing formula, which reallocates total OPP costs on a per household basis throughout Ontario.
One of the framework’s biggest flaws is that it qualifies seasonal residences as households. That means the thousands of cottages in the county are billed at a rate equivalent to year-round homes.
As was noted at a county council meeting last week, in one municipality wind turbines are being billed as households, so . . . that brings a whole new level of headshaking to the equation.
When the phase-in is complete, the collective OPP bill of Haliburton County’s four lower-tier townships will have doubled from about $3 million to more than $6 million, with no increase in service.
Not that we need an increase in service. In fact, asking how many police officers we really need, in this community and this country, is a question that desperately needs asking as policing costs continue to spiral out of control.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, there were just fewer than 70,000 police officers in Canada, with total policing costs amounting to more than $13.6 billion.
Wages and benefits constitute between 80 and 90 per cent of all policing costs. It’s difficult to know exact local figures since the OPP have been conveniently unable to tell county politicians how much the local detachment costs to operate on an annual basis, despite their repeated requests.
According to the Fraser Institute, the average number of police officers per 100,000 people in Canada rose by 8.2 per cent between 2001 and 2012, while the crime rate during the same period dropped by 26.3 per cent.
Does a tiny community like Haliburton County, with a year-round population of 17,000, even require 30 police officers?
There are about 30 officers at the Haliburton Highlands OPP detachment. An exact figure cannot be provided since the OPP have refused to provide this publication with an updated staff list.
The Police Services Act allows municipalities to form their own police forces or join with contiguous municipal forces.
While it’s true that we live in a world of interest arbitration, where officers of new municipal forces would in short order want to be paid at a rate equivalent to other forces, surely there must be some officers out there, tired of working in communities with high crime rates, who would be willing to take a pay cut to work in cottage country.
A municipal force would also allow more local control over the number of officers.
In the wake of the new billing formula, a number of hard-hit communities have had feasibility studies done on the creation of their own forces or partnering with neighbouring municipal forces.
However, as was noted at last week’s meeting, the finding of many of these studies has been that municipal forces would be nearly as expensive or just as expensive as the OPP.
However, many of those studies use the cost of new buildings, new equipment and new vehicles.
While there are adequacy standards that must be adhered to, the county has property it could use and owns buildings that could possibly be retrofitted to house police headquarters. What about finding gently used cruisers and equipment?
Getting the cost of policing under control is going to require some very creative thinking and some very serious political will.
It’s lack of political will at the provincial level that has allowed the pay of OPP officers to rise to such an outlandish level in the first place.
Council has agreed to defer the idea of a local force for now, but at no time should the current county council or any of its successors rule out the concept.