Some civic leaders are cautiously optimistic about new OPP cost plan

By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

(QMI Agency file photo)

(QMI Agency file photo)

After months holding their breath for promises of a better and fairer approach to provincial policing costs, Southwestern Ontario mayors are still waiting to exhale.

Ontario this week announced plans to roll out a new billing system for municipalities that rely on OPP service, amid complaints the existing system leaves some of the province’s 324 OPP-patrolled communities paying far more than others.

Friday, a day after the change was announced, some civic leaders were cautiously optimistic.

The province says about 580,000 property owners will see an increase in policing costs, while an almost equal number will get a break under the new model that will start Jan. 1 and be phased in over five years.

While mayors agree the province is “on the right track,” some say the details aren’t clear and they hope to get a better grip on them at convention of civic politicians from across Ontario in London next week.

“I think they’re on the right track,” Lambton County Warden Todd Case said. “When you’ve got some municipalities that pay as little as $50, $60 per household (for OPP service) and you’ve got some that are paying $1,000-plus a household, it’s obvious it’s not an even playing field.”

Averaged across Ontario, OPP service should work out to about $355 a household, officials say.

Under the new model, the base cost will be an average $203 per property to cover 60% of the annual cost, with the other 40% based on the volume and nature of police calls. To reduce the fallout for those who will pay more, the province is introducing the changes in stages, with annual increases capped at $40. Communities that have paid too much will similarly see their decrease rolled out in phases.

“The first question that comes to my mind is, if we’ve been paying more than our share for quite awhile, why would we have to wait five years to see it discounted to where it should be, “ Case said.

“We’ll have to see the devil in the details.”

It’s expected costs will rise for 207 of 324 municipalities, while 115 will pay less.

One of those communities is Brooke Alvinston. But Mayor Don McGugan said he’s concerned how the base price will be affected by service calls. “I don’t have any control of when people call the OPP,” he said.

Norfolk Mayor Dennis Travale, part of a mayoral coalition that’s pushed to make OPP policing more affordable, said he still wants more answers.

“I was hoping it would be nice and clear what would be happening,” he said. “It is still not clear what the end result is going to be. I have a hopeful expectation we will see a reduction in our costs.”

Instead of relief, many OPP-serviced communities are still waiting to see how the changes will unfold, said Pat Vanini, executive director of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“There are a lot of details that haven’t been explained,” he said.

With files by Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

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Now: Cost varies widely, from $9 a year per household for Cockburn Island at the low end, to about $1,000 per household each year in Atikokan and Kenora at the high end. Some other examples:

  • Norfolk County: pop. 64,000: $450 per household
  • Warwick Township: pop. 3,700: $618
  • Brooke Alvinston: pop, 2,500: $600

New: Base cost $203 per property, for 60% of a municipality’s bill, with the other 40% based on volume and nature of service calls.

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