OPP billing makes little sense
To the Editor,
For the past three weeks I’ve had a clipping of the letter written by OPP Supt. Marc Bedard sitting on my kitchen table. I finally have time to write.
Supt. Bedard begins his letter by describing the old billing system as inequitable because different communities were paying significantly different amounts for policing. Perhaps, but what I understood about the old system is that a significant component of the charges were based upon OPP activity in the municipality. The more police activity, the higher the bill. What, exactly, is wrong with that? Supt. Bedard doesn’t explain. But, as a demonstration of how inequitable the old system was, he says: “...some municipalities were paying less than $10 per year per household while others were paying more than $800.” $10 per year per household is a pretty low cost. But he does not specify the municipality. Perhaps I can guess: The Archipelago is island cottage community close to Parry Sound with more than 3,000 cottages, and around 250 permanent residents. When you think of a seasonal, mostly water access community where the “households” outnumber the permanent residents by a factor of more than 10 to one, and policing activities would inevitably be low, it’s unsurprising that policing costs per property would be small. I can’t guess which municipality was paying $800 per property, but I’d be astonished if it wasn’t an equally unrepresentative example. The credibility of Supt. Bedard’s comments suffers as a result.
In Ontario, and across Canada, there is a high correlation between the number of properties used as dwellings and the number of people. This makes sense, as people live in dwellings. But, there are several problems with an approach that uses dwellings as proxy measure for people. The first is that it is the activities of people that require police services. Dwellings are inanimate. The second is that the correlation between people and properties breaks down completely when it is applied to individual communities like The Archipelago, or Haliburton County, both of which have more properties than permanent residents. Elsewhere, in more representative communities, the permanent population outnumbers dwellings by almost two to one. So while properties and people are closely correlated when measured at say, the provincial level, the correlation falls apart when that measure is applied to individual municipalities. That’s why Supt. Bedard’s per property cost numbers, rolled out in defence of the new billing model make no sense. We have lots of trees in Haliburton County. I’m sure our policing cost per tree is pretty low. But, just like our policing cost per dwelling, it’s irrelevant, because the measurement base is wrong. Why dwellings (“households”) were chosen instead of population as a basis for allocation of OPP base costs is an unanswered question. I note that the RCMP uses population as a factor when allocating policing costs to municipalities elsewhere in Canada. Perhaps Superintendent Bedard can explain what the OPP knows that the RCMP doesn’t?
One thing about the new billing formula is certain. When dwellings instead of population is chosen as a basis for the allocation of base police costs, those communities with a proportionately higher numbers of dwellings in relation to the permanent population are going to pay a higher proportion of the cost. Communities with a greater density of people and proportionately fewer dwellings are going to pay less. And, if the number of dwellings outnumber the permanent population, as in the case of Haliburton County and other communities with large numbers of seasonal dwellings, the effect is going to be disproportionate, as we’ve all seen. Does that matter? It does when the costs allocated to Haliburton bear scant relationship to the actual costs of policing the county. The OPP’s own statistics and a bit of arithmetic make that clear to anyone who sits down and does some calculations. And, this is not new news. During the “consultations” as Supt. Bedard calls them, our local political leaders could see this coming long before it happened, and raised the alarm. Why weren’t they listened to? My view is that the other members of the AMO who participated knew exactly what was going to happen, and they let it happen because they stood to gain from it. And, the OPP, instead of being neutral, and seeking a fair result, facilitated this inequity. The allocation of OPP costs is a zero sum game. If municipalities with seasonal properties pay more, then everybody else pays less. What’s wrong with that?
Well, here’s what is wrong: First, allocated costs should bear some relationship to the actual costs of policing in each municipality. Under the new formula, that relationship has been shattered. Second, the transfer of costs from one municipality to another under this new formula (because that’s exactly what it is) is inequitable because it overloads the municipal budgets of affected municipalities with police costs that then squeeze every other area of public expenditure in the municipality. That’s the situation here among the municipalities that comprise Haliburton County. Our taxes have risen dramatically, and will continue to rise, but none of those incremental tax dollars will stay here. They’ll all go to pay the allocated costs under the new billing formula. But, there’s more to municipal public expenditure than just paying for the police. The truth is, Haliburton County taxpayers see this for what it is: we’re paying someone else’s police costs. That isn’t right. Our local political leaders should be applauded for their efforts to right this inequity.