Concerns about spiraling costs at the OPP have at least one town councilor urging a re-think of the police merger, even this late in the game.
During the last Perth town council meeting of the year on Tuesday, Dec. 18, Coun. Jim Graff brought to council’s attention information he had received from the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) regarding the recently-released Ontario Auditor General’s report for 2012, which found, among other things, that OPP overtime costs have increased by 60 per cent, to $53 million, for the 2011-12 period.
“This comes after our disbandment hearing, but I hope that council will listen,” he said, claiming that the town of Gananoque has already gone through its own section 40 hearing, but has is holding tight on signing off on an OPP contract, and that while Brockville’s mayor wanted to bring in the OPP, his council is slowing the process down to allow more time for research.
“It’s not that they won’t consider it,” said Graff of the Brockville decision. “They just want four months to consider it.”
Graff urged more time, even now, before the signing of the contract in the new year, to study the matter.
“All we are going on is an estimated cost (from the OPP). It could be more because of overtime,” said Graff.
Considering that it was the holiday season, Graff stressed that he was not attacking his fellow councilors, since this information had only just come to light, after the Dec. 5 OCOPS (Ontario Civilian Police Commission) meeting at the Best Western Plus Hotel meeting.
“I know their hearts are in the right place,” said Graff. “I’ll keep my voice very friendly. ‘Tis the season to be jolly,” he said with a smile, before adding that “good decisions require good information,” and that since a lot of the police debate over the past year about disbanding the Perth Police Service has centred on policing costs, that this new information was very relevant.
Mayor John Fenik, however, said that it would be the people of Perth who, in 24 months, come election time, who would make the final verdict on the police force.
Previous requests from the auditor general to find greater efficiencies appear to “have not been acted upon,” with the overall cost of OPP services for municipalities increasing by an average of 29 per cent for municipalities with OPP contracts, and 19 per cent for those without OPP contracts, from 2007 to 2011.
Anther point of contention for Graff was response times, long a gripe of anti-merger critics.
“The OPP…does not analyze either its officers’ ability to immediately respond to a call or the time it takes for officers to respond to a call,” Graff claimed. “I’m not so sure that (OPP Lanark County detachment commander) Insp. Gerry Salisbury, on his own, can tell us what the OPP’s response times will be in town.”
Fenik countered that Salisbury would indeed be appearing before town council in the new year to answer council’s questions, and he called the response times issue “a red herring,” noting that “our (Perth) officers cannot respond within three to five minutes 100 per cent of the time when our assets are tied up,” with traffic collisions, for example.
Coun. Ed MacPherson has seen what Fenik calls the “made-in-Perth” OPP contract, which Fenik has promised to reveal to the public at council in January, and “I do want you (Fenik) to make clear what we are doing with response times within the made-in-Perth contract. We put a lot in there,” MacPherson said. “It is unique in the province of Ontario.”
“It does answer some questions that people may have,” said Fenik, when the details are aired on Jan. 22, 2013.
Graff made sure to point out that he was not criticizing the quality of the policing provided by the OPP, but added that the coalition of Ontario mayor’s lobbying for lower policing costs, which had numbered 70 members earlier this year, now stands at 114.
“They were reasonably pleased with the OPP service,” said Graff. “They were not pleased with the costs. I know that this will rub some councilors the wrong way.”
Fenik said that he too would join the coalition if costs got out of hand, but added that costs were likely to spiral anyway with Perth’s own force.
“I have never come across a mayor that has been dissatisfied with any OPP service,” said Fenik. “There is concern with the cost of the OPP. (But) our costs were projected to go through the roof within the next five years.”
Fenik added that there many of the complaining coalition mayor’s were upset about costs because “they were not bearing the true cost of policing (beforehand)…it is a big jump.”
“Our own policing costs were spiraling out of control,” said Coun. Jim Boldt. “I too have read the auditor general’s report. I too am concerned about the information in there. We area have-not province all of a sudden. People are turning over stones that did not get turned over before. (But) we have done the right thing. We have done our due diligence. This is a win-win. We made our decision and I stand by it.”