By Chad Ingram
Published April 13 2016
Haliburton County will lodge a complaintwith the Ontario Ombudsman regarding the OPP billing formula asking theombudsman's office to review the billing framework that came into effect last year.
“I'm suggesting that we reach out to theombudsman” said Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey during a special countycouncil meeting April 13. “That's their responsibility to capture complaintsabout Ontario government services and police is an Ontario government service.I think there's a case to be made.”
Municipalities first found out about a newOPP billing system in late 2013 one that would redistribute total OPP costs ona per household basis throughout the province. Because seasonal residencesqualify as households cottage communities such as the county's four lower-tiertownships are watching their OPP bills skyrocket during a five-year phase-inperiod that began in 2015.
The county's collective policing bill willdouble from about $3 million to more than $6 million during the phase-in.
County council rallied against the formulain 2014 meeting with ministers to explain what they believed were theformula's many flaws. It weights commercial properties evenly with residentialones for example.
“If a bar in one of the cities is onehousehold and we've got one cottager that's up here for 60 days of the year andthey're paying at the same rate . . . that's unfair” Fearrey said Wednesday.“It's unfair that large commercial facilities are one unit.”
Fearrey also said if the province wouldprovide the statistics he's confident the county could demonstrate thatseasonal residents generate very few calls for service.
County chief administrative officer MikeRutter said he thought there was merit in making a submission to theombudsman's office and that he believes the formula has flaws.
Rutter said that Frontenac Islands Townshipis being billed for the OPP to look after windmills.
“A wind turbine is being taxed as if it wasa household” he said. “There are a lot of things systematically wrong with thebilling formula and I think a lot of municipalities would support that.”
Councillors discussed other options suchas the creation of a local municipal police force or contracting the services ofa contiguous municipal force as permitted under the Police Services Act.
The county could approach the City ofKawartha Lakes for example about using its force.
However since the formula was announced anumber of municipalities have conducted feasibility studies on creating theirown forces or partnering with contiguous ones and Rutter told council in manycases those studies have shown little if any cost savings.
“Even in cases where they have partneredwith other townships the cost per household is almost the same as the OPP”Rutter said.
While the thought is often that municipalforces give municipalities control over wages – which constitute approximately85 per cent of OPP costs – “we live in a world of interest arbitration” Ruttersaid explaining that before long municipal officers would want similarpaycheques to other police officers in the province.
“All that arbitrators look at is what otherpeople in similar positions are getting paid” Rutter continued adding theydon't consider factors such as call volumes or a municipality's ability to payas the county had recently seen with its paramedics.
Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County WardenCarol Moffatt agreed that if creating a municipal force were a relatively easyfeat there would be more of them in the province and fewer areas covered bythe OPP.
“Starting from scratch is a massivemassive undertaking” Moffatt said.
Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve LizDanielsen thought the county should stick to lobbying the province saying thatif the proverbial horse was out of the barn when it came to the billingformula the horse was still in the corral.
Council voted to defer any decision on thecreation of a local force and along with its submission to the ombudsman'soffice to continue to lobby the province for changes to the formula.