By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 2 2017
Ontario’s ombudsman won’t take any action on a complaint from Haliburton County regarding the OPP billing formula.
In May county council sent a letter to the office of the Ombudsman of Ontario lodging a complaint with what is says is a flawed billing framework that unfairly impacts communities with seasonal populations.
Coming into effect in 2015 the formula phased in during a five-year period redistributed OPP costs on a per-household basis throughout the province. Under the formula seasonal residences are weighted equally with year-round ones which the county government has contended repeatedly is unfair and a central flaw of the formula.
It means that cottage communities like the townships of Haliburton County are hardest hit. The county’s collective OPP bill will double from about $3 million to about $6 million during the phase-in.
“At the root of our concern with the new formula is the fact that base costs are allocated on a ‘per household’ basis that includes residential units farmlands on which a farm residence exists and seasonal dwelling units” the county’s submission read. “In addition the formula takes into account fully occupied commercial and industrial business properties. We believe the calculation of households is systemically unfair for a number of reasons.”
Councillors received the ombudsman’s response during a Jan. 25 meeting. It was not the response they had been hoping for.
“Our review indicates that in revising the OPP billing formula the ministry was acting on recommendations from the auditor general to remedy inequities in the previous billing structure” read correspondence signed by deputy Ombudsman of Ontario Barb Finlay. “The ministry and the OPP engaged in extensive stakeholder consultation in which the county participated before arriving at the final billing model.
“The ministry provided explanations for why the formula is weighted more heavily in favour of base charges and why base charges are charged per household. The ministry’s decision to include seasonal properties in the base charge calculations was supported by the AMO [Association of Municipalities of Ontario]’s OPP billing steering committee.
“While I understand that you disagree with the new billing structure the specific approach the ministry takes regarding the billing formula for policing services delivered to municipalities is within its jurisdiction.”
But Haliburton County did not participate in stakeholder consultations.
“This all began with some very peculiar letters from the mayors’ coalition” said Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt referring to a group of mayors who felt their communities were paying too much for policing and in 2012 formed a group advocating for changes.
That group which called itself the Mayors’ Coalition for Affordable Sustainable and Accountable Policing (ASAP) included the mayors of Tillsonburg Cochrane Penetanguishene Norfolk and Parry Sound.
A 2013 correspondence from the mayors’ coalition listed 150 municipalities it said supported its goals. Among those 150 were listed Haliburton County and its four lower-tier townships.
“And that was absolutely untrue” said Moffatt emphasizing local politicians were never consulted. “To me that was a misrepresentation of support to AMO. That’s the elephant in the room that’s never been addressed.”
Dysart et al Reeve Murray said he didn’t blame the ombudsman’s office for its ruling but did take issue with AMO which he stressed is supposed to represent the interests of all Ontario municipalities.
“In this case they represented the cities and threw the rural communities with cottagers under the bus” Fearrey said. “I still don’t want to let AMO off the hook here. I don’t know if they put up a fight for us at all.”
Minden Hills Reeve and County Warden Brent Devolin said council would continue to seek a solution to escalating police costs.
“Obviously we haven’t given up on this” Devolin said. “This is a door we thought we’d try.”