TORONTO – Most municipalities that pay Ontario Provincial Police for local law enforcement will see their policing costs go up over the next five years, the governing Liberals said Thursday.
The OPP is introducing a new billing model that the government said will simplify, clarify and more evenly distribute costs among municipalities, who are concerned about having to hike property taxes to pay rising policing costs.
Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi said the new model, which would separate base costs and service call costs, won’t increase the amount of money the OPP recovers from municipalities. But it will change how much those communities are paying for OPP services, which have varied widely throughout the province.
Some municipalities are paying less than $10 a year per household, while other similar communities are paying over $800 per year, he said.
Ontario’s auditor general criticized those discrepancies in the 2012 annual report, also noting that while crime rates have gone down, policing expenditures have gone up.
Of the 324 municipalities who rely on OPP services, 207 will see an average increase of about $83 per property, which will include business and industrial properties as well as households, while 115 communities will see their cost decrease by about $70 per property.
The changes will be phased in over five years, starting in January, with annual increases capped at $40 per property, Naqvi said. Decreases will start at $18 and reach $98 in the final year.
“This will provide stability and predictability for both taxpayers and municipalities,” he said.
The bill will be split 60-40 between base costs – which includes routine patrols, crime prevention, local detachments, officer training and administrative duties – and calls for service, such as a car accident.
Municipalities are not charged for provincial duties those same officers may perform, such as patrolling provincial highways and waterways, said OPP Insp. Bert McDonald of the Municipal Policing Bureau. They’re also compensated when officers are called out to major events, like the devastating Goderich tornado or the upcoming 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Games.
Naqvi said all municipalities will end up paying the same amount – about $203 per property – to cover base costs. Communities will also get “very detailed” reports on the type and volume of service calls.
The new model may clarify policing costs, but it does nothing to contain them, which is a big concern for many towns and cities, said Pat Vanini of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
According to the OPP, salary, benefits and overtime account for about 85 per cent of the bill it sends to municipalities.
“I don’t know any municipal government where policing costs isn’t the highest portion of the tax bill,” Vanini said. “It’s in Toronto, even where municipal forces are.”
The OPP received an 8.5 per cent wage hike this year after a two-year pay freeze, having signed a contract with the province that guarantees they’ll be the highest paid cops in Ontario.
The cash-strapped Liberals have said for several years that there’s no new money for salary increases as they struggle to slay a multibillion-dollar deficit. But critics remain skeptical, saying the hefty pay hike proves it’s just lip service.
Naqvi insisted Thursday that there’s no new money for pay hikes, but wouldn’t say whether the Liberals’ commitment to make the OPP the top paid police in the province would be withdrawn in their next round of negotiations with the Ontario Provincial Police Association.
The Progressive Conservatives questioned the “eleventh hour” timing of his announcement, just a few days before AMO’s conference in London, Ont.
Naqvi claims the new model will be transparent, but crucial details have been left out, said community safety critic Rick Nicholls.
“The government has provided an average per house price for policing. That doesn’t tell municipalities what police services will cost in Cochrane versus what they will cost in Leamington,” he said in a statement.
© The Canadian Press, 2014