Council to lobby for help on rising OPP costs

Duane Hicks

Policing costs are escalating far too high, and the Town of Fort Frances wants the province to give municipalities a helping hand.
At Monday night’s regular council meeting, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft noted the cost of contract police services here has risen almost 19 percent over the past four years—and will go even higher thanks to a recent wage settlement.
“The province just recently negotiated a front-end loaded 5.075 percent three-year deal with the OPP very shortly after suggesting that the provincial workers and municipalities employ significant restraint during these difficult economic times,” he remarked.
“What really bothers me the most, on top of this front-loaded 5.075 percent, is my understanding, if I have my facts correct, that at the end of the three-year deal, the OPP salaries will be raised an equal amount to the highest-paid police force in the province,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“That’s what scares me more than anything.
“My concern and my problem is not with the OPP or the free collective bargaining process, but with this provincial government,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft stressed.
“They somehow forget the local taxpayers have to pay for 63 percent of all policing costs and that the cost that they’ve negotiated will come directly out of our local coffers.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said council must send a resolution to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance minister Dwight Duncan laying out the facts as town delegates presented to the province back in August during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s annual general meeting in Windsor.
At that time, local delegates made a presentation to Mike Cole, parliamentary assistant to Community Safety and Correctional Services minister Rick Bartolucci, regarding the continued escalating costs related to OPP services.
They related that the OPP contract cost of delivering police services to this community has risen by 18.6 percent over the past four years, with a 5.3 percent increase in 2010, and that since 2001, the policing estimate for Fort Frances has increased by 47 percent.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said the resolution will outline “our concern with this recent settlement, and suggest to them—I’d like to say demand, but I think we have to suggest at this point in time—that they increase their provincial policing grant as part of the OMPF [Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund] funding to cover the additional costs of police services in Ontario for those communities that are contracting the OPP.
“Furthermore, I think we should send a copy of that resolution to all municipalities who contract with the OPP, seeking their support,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
A resolution will be drafted to be passed at the Dec. 20 meeting of council and subsequently distributed to all district municipalities for their support.
It will be brought forth at the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual general meeting in January, and if supported there, proceed to the Northern Ontario Municipal Association and then the Association of Municipalities of Ontario for even broader support.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said not only are police costs escalating, but emergency services in general, adding these concerns also have been brought up before the Ministry of Labour.
“It’s becoming prohibitive, especially for a small municipality, to respond to some of the exorbitant awards that are being given in this arbitrative process,” McCaig remarked.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for the municipalities or the affected employers . . . to have a lot of input into the process.
“They’re using comparative groups throughout southern Ontario and what people are getting in some of these various locales is kind of unilaterally being applied across the province without any particular concern for specific municipalities and their stories,” added McCaig.
“There’s a lot of stories out there,” he stressed. “We have stories, as well, based on the challenges we’re facing with our local mill.
McCaig said some of these awards being presented are very concerning not just for the salary aspects but for other elements, such as service pay.
Originally called retention pay, it was an initiative by the Toronto police department to retain police officers who were leaving there and going to other locales.
Based on an officer’s years of service, they get a three, six, or nine percent bonus on top of their annual wages.
“In the municipal sector, that’s absolutely unheard of when it comes to other workers, and particularly, other unions,” said McCaig, noting retiree benefits also are a big component of settlements.
“Those things are difficult to entertain, particularly when you have to go through the exercise and you present a case based on your own circumstances,” he remarked.
“It seems to be the trend to just unilaterally distribute them because it’s based on comparative groups and someone else is given it.
“It’s a very big concern because these are important services,” McCaig stressed. “They do a good job, they are services we need.
“[But] our ability to pay, based on some of these settlements, is getting extremely cost-prohibitive,” he warned.
Looking ahead to the 2011 budget, the town also may have to pay for an increase in firefighter pay here.
Human resources manager Christine Ruppenstein said monetary issues were the main subject of an interest arbitration hearing held Friday in Thunder Bay.
“We are now awaiting the outcome of the award, which typically takes a number of months to receive,” she noted.
“When we receive the award, any and all cost implications to the taxpayer will be forthcoming.”