Three Northwestern Ontario mayors are hoping a meeting on police costs at an upcoming conference will yield progress.
Kenora, Sioux Lookout, and Pickle Lake on Wednesday announced they are scheduled for a half hour meeting with the Solicitor General Michael Kerzner at the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association conference taking place next week in Toronto.
The three municipalities had formed a coalition last year in an effort to reduce police costs, which they said are disproportionately high.
“We’re hoping to get some traction and something that’s of a positive nature,” Kenora Mayor Andrew Poirier said in an interview. “We’re going to wait and see what happens at the meeting on [Jan. 23].”
Poirier said they were still holding out hope the province is listening and that it has taken a look at the data the coalition has presented on several occasions in previous months.
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance, who in a news release said he is cautiously optimistic Kerzner will be coming to the table with a solution, said the issue isn’t about the quality of policing, which he described as being very good.
“This is about the financial burden on our local taxpayers which is unsustainable and has been so for many years. Our communities are relatively small, but our police costs are extraordinarily high,” Lawrance said.
The coalition said the cost for policing in Sioux Lookout, Kenora and Pickle Lake is approximately three times the median cost for municipalities at $300 per household.
“The current cost formula unfairly penalizes taxpayers for expenses that are out of our control,” Pickle Lake mayor Jim Dalzell said in the release. “We need a long-term solution from the provincial government.”
Poirier said the way the formula works is there’s a base rate that charged for every household in the province which gets policing through the OPP, then the rest of the billing is based on calls for service.
“Our calls for service have continued to escalate for the last several years,” he said. “We’re at a point now what the formula says, this is what we pay based on those numbers. We’re averaging anywhere from 1,400 to 1,700 a month and when you times that by 12, we’re getting closer and closer to the 20,000 calls for service mark [per year].”
“The billing reflects that and that’s why our costs are high per household.”
Poirier said there are mechanisms for financial relief, and he hopes to get that from the Solicitor General.
“I’m not sure yet, because we still have to continue to have those discussions with the Ministry,“ he said. “We need some assistance because it’s a major strain on our budget and it takes away from many other things that we would like to accomplish in the community.”