OPP costs trouble municipalities

LITTLE CURRENT––Recent spikes in policing costs have garnered attention across the province in recent weeks as rural municipalities who contract their policing services to the Ontario Provincial Police have been hit with significant increases.

In the past, policing costs passed onto municipalities have been assessed each year on a baseline set several years before the current budget year, but in 2008 the formula moved to a yearly update, bringing cost assessments forward to closer reflect current costs. This compounded the jump in assessed costs, lumping several years of costs largely into one year, as the assessment process played catch-up. This year, those costs are again increasing as the catch-up process should be finalized.

Municipalities pay roughly 35 percent of the costs of policing their communities through a cost recovery formula. That municipal cost recovery comprised some $353,232,000 of a $1.003 billion policing bill in 2011. The estimates are used to calculate a monthly bill for municipalities, and then the actual costs are reconciled mid year and provided to municipalities in the fall to assist with their budgeting process.

On Manitoulin Island, the Northeast Town is facing a projected $51,000 increase in policing costs for 2013.

“NEMI pays almost 50 percent of the municipal share of policing costs on Manitoulin,” said Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson. “We get an estimate as to what those costs are going to be, but the actual final bill has not arrived yet.”

Policing cost estimates are based on a formula that takes into account population and geography and adjusted by key indicators that help estimate what the workload calls for service in an individual community might be. Those indicators can include calls for mental health, sudden death, collisions, injuries, domestic investigations, missing persons, compassionate messages and even false alarms.

A larger municipality will likely see a larger number of calls for service, but the demographics can also play a major role, with older more established rural communities likely to generate fewer calls for service than a newer community or one with a younger population or an expanding workforce.

“The OPP looks at the history of the community to help provide the estimate of what the calls for service in a community are likely to be in the upcoming year,” said Manitoulin Detachment Commander Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb. That history helps the force determine the number of staff needed to provide police services to the area including the number of staff sergeants, constables, non-police staff and the facilities and equipment needed to house and support those resources.

There are eight communities that comprise the Manitoulin detachement’s catchments area and although the Northeast Town pays the largest portion, the communities of Central Manitoulin, Gore Bay and Manitowaning also pay significant amounts for policing.

“We gasped when we saw our bill, just like everyone else did,” said Central Manitoulin Reeve Gerry Strong. “You don’t want to say that you can’t do anything about it, but there really isn’t a lot that the municipality can realistically do if they don’t like the bill. Those costs are basically passed down to us. We do what we can.”

Reeve Strong noted that his council will be meeting with the detachment commander to try and come to grasp with the rising costs.

For his part, Staff Sergeant Webb said he was sympathetic to the plight of the municipalities. “Our job is public safety,” he noted. “But part of my job is also to try and ensure that safety comes at as reasonable a cost as it can.” The detachment commander said that he is reviewing the allocation process for calls for service to ensure that the process is being conducted fairly and accurately.

One of the possible reasons for the Northeast Town’s larger share of the costs is the location of one of the Island’s hospital sites within the municipality. “If someone comes into the hospital as a result of an incident in another community and then there is a problem at the hospital and the hospital has to call the police, then that call is on us,” said Mr. Williamson. The originating incident does often play a role in the investigation, however, clarifies Staff Sergeant Webb, if the incident is clearly taking place at the hospital within the municipality, the incident does impact the calls for service statistics.

Calls to First Nation communities do not impact on municipal bills, as those calls are dealt with through the UCCM Anishinaabe Police Services or Wikwemikong Tribal Police.

“But if the UCCM police bring someone to the hospital and then leave and then that person starts to act up, it is often the OPP who will be called to deal with the issue,” suggested Mr. Williamson.

On the bright side of the ledger, Staff Sergeant Webb noted that the reconciliation for the first six months of last year indicate that costs have not risen appreciably, so there is a possibility of better news in the future.

If the OPP reconciliation determines that there were fewer calls for service than estimated, the municipality receives a rebate, and if there are a greater number of calls, the municipalities receives an invoice.

Michael Erskine