THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO --- November 17, 2014 --- In Ontario, municipalities are required by law to provide police services for their constituents. There are only two legal ways to do this. One is to create a municipal police department (as is the case in Thunder Bay). The other is to use the services of an existing police department (such as a neighbouring municipal police force or the Ontario Provincial Police). The minimum standards for creating municipal police departments make creating an in-house service cost-prohibitive for small municipalities. As a result, most of Ontario’s small and rural municipalities use the services of the Ontario Provincial Police, either by contracting with the OPP directly for a specified level of service, or through the “default” provisions of the Police Services Act.
The impact on Neebing’s 2015 budget is not pretty.
In the calendar year 2014, Neebing paid $111,961.00 for OPP policing. This was paid under a contract for services which was terminated during the review. Under the new funding model (ignoring any phase-in reductions), the annual price tag for police services in Neebing will increase to $304,000.00. This is an increase of 271%.
During 2013 and 2014, the Provincial Government has been undertaking a review of the formula under which Ontario municipalities pay for the OPP services that they receive. As a result of that review, the billing formula has been changed. There was an initial billing model proposed and published for consultation. Municipalities and municipal associations and organizations provided feedback to the Province regarding that model. In September, the Province finalized the new billing formula. On September 30th, Ontario municipalities who use OPP services received the information relating to what they will have to pay in 2015, along with detailed explanations of how the costs were calculated. During the funding formula review, the OPP cancelled any service contracts that had existed with Ontario municipalities, effective December 31, 2014.
Some of the feedback that had been provided to the Province during the consultation period was from municipalities like ours where the price was proposed to jump by a very significant amount. The budget impact (which equates directly to an impact to the residents’ pocket books) would be crippling. In response, the Province has decided to “phase in” any increases (or decreases, in the few instances that they occur). The phase-in will occur over a time frame of 5 years. Because of this, the actual price that Neebing will pay for the OPP services in 2015 is $159,642.00. That represents an increase of 42.59% over 2014. Although that compares favourably to an increase of 271%, it is still an unmanageable increase for a small and primarily residential municipality. One must also keep in mind that the “real” increase of 271% will happen – it will just happen over time.
Your municipal council, together with many other local government councils across Ontario, provided input during the consultation phase at every opportunity, protesting the proposed increases and trying to explain to the Province the impact that would result if the increases were to be finalized at these levels. It does not appear that their voices were heard. Council continues to protest the new billing model. It is working hard on a strategy to overcome this new challenge.
The billing model is based, in part, on the number of calls that a municipality’s constituents place to the OPP. While Council members would never advise those who really need police assistance for protection of people or property to avoid calling the police, Council also wishes to bring this issue to the attention of the public. While Neebing is grappling with this issue, please think twice before calling the OPP for
neighbourhood disputes or minor infractions. In no case should anyone consider “taking the law into their own hands” – this is not the point of this article. However, where a by-law may be of assistance to resolve an issue, you may wish to consider bringing the matter to the attention of the municipality rather than the police.
Rest assured the battle over this price increase is ongoing – but it is proving to be an uphill climb. 2015 may be a significant belt-tightening year in many ways.