A new costing model for providing OPP services to municipalities has some northern communities worried.
The province is introducing the new costing formula over a five year period starting in January of next year to more evenly distribute costs among municipalities. The current model has municipalities paying anywhere between $10 per property per year to more than $1,000.
The new model will bring the base cost of OPP service down to $203 per household per year, which is 60 per cent of the bill. The other 40 per cent will be based on the number of calls per service.
That’s what has Pickle Lake Mayor Roy Hoffman worried as the community has the highest number of calls for service per officer. In 2013, they had 389 calls per officer and Hoffman attributes those to alcohol and substance abuse issues.
“If 40 per cent of the cost of this new funding is going to be based on call volume, we’re in trouble,” he said Friday morning.
In 2005, Pickle Lake was paying $2,179 per household for OPP services, the highest in the province. Hoffman said a few years of lobbying resulted in the government covering 85 per cent of those costs, but that still left the taxpayers with a $380 per household bill every year.
“We’re a town of 400 people. We’re relatively isolated. The nearest town is Sioux Lookout, which is 250 kilometres away so we can’t share our police service with anybody,” said Hoffman, adding Pickle Lake has a detachment of about eight officers.
“It’s just 400 people cannot afford to pay that. Whatever funding model the province comes up with, which I’m applauding because it’s about time of these people started paying for the OPP, but no matter what model they come up with will not work for Pickle.”
“No matter what they do, they’re still going to have to come up with something different for us,” Hoffman said. “I hate to say we’re a special case, but we are. We’re a unique situation.”
Hoffman understands there is a price for policing and he says they’ve been told the province won’t charge Pickle Lake for alcohol-related calls, but there’s no official deal in place.
That’s what Hoffman hopes to clear up when he meets with Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi next week during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s annual conference.
“We would like some assurances from the government and it would be nice to get some assurances in writing,” said Hoffman.
And while he says the OPP shouldn’t be dealing with the community’s social problems, there is no other option.
“Bottom line is up in Pickle Lake, we have no hospital. We have no counselling services. We have nothing, so the OPP – and I feel sorry for them – they are the only ones that have to deal with this,” he said.
“On the other hand, the bill comes to us on the local taxpayers, that’s not right either. This is a huge issue.”
Sioux Lookout Mayor Dennis Leney is also concerned about the new costing model and is hoping to discuss it with provincial leaders at the AMO conference.
The community currently pays $1,300 per household, a price that is nearly unmanageable for the municipality, especially since its tax base is mostly residential.
With similar social issues to Pickle Lake, Leney is also worried about the 40 per cent of the bill that will be based on calls for service, but he does believe a more consistent cost system is needed.
“It’s always been my thing that I don’t care if you live in Gravenhurst, Ont., or Barrie or Simcoe or wherever, if you get OPP policing, it shouldn’t be any different than what we have in Sioux Lookout,” he told Northwest Newsweek.
But it’s not all bad news for the north as the town of Atikokan is expecting their costs to decrease.
Mayor Dennis Brown said they pay about $1,000 per property for OPP services and the high cost has been an issue for a couple of years now.
“It’s not that we’re dissatisfied with the policing. We appreciate and we are very satisfied with the service the OPP is providing, but the cost is just too high,” he said.
“When we see what we’re paying compared to other municipalities across Ontario, it just doesn’t seem fair.”
Brown didn’t know what the exact new cost should be, but he hopes the cost drops by at least 50 per cent.
“That’s good news for the town of Atikokan,” he said.
Of the 324 municipalities in Ontario that use the services of the OPP, 207 will see an increase and 115 will see a decrease in costs.