In practical terms, the relocation of the Perth County OPP’s St. Marys office to the downstairs of Town Hall will be accomplished through what Town of St. Marys CAO Kevin McLlwain described as “the opening of a door and the closing of an archway.” The costs will be “somewhat minor,” and covered within the regular facilities budget of the town’s Police Services Board (PSB).
But in political terms, the relocation — set to take effect Oct. 1, 2013 — almost wasn’t approved at all.
At a Town Council meeting Tuesday, July 23, a 4-3 vote secured the approval of a recommendation from the PSB to relocate the office — currently situated at the Town-owned Post Office building on Wellington Street. Voting against were Councillors Stephen McCotter, Bill Osborne and Tony Winter.
Winter, along with Mayor Steve Grose, represents Council on the PSB. Prior to the July 23 Council vote, he advised fellow councillors that he also voted against the OPP relocation at the PSB level.
Winter based his opposition on the fact that recently-resigned PSB Chair Steve Cousins spent much time and energy seeking a downtown location for the OPP that would afford enhanced visibility and accessibility for the public. He believes the Town Hall venue wouldn’t have met with Cousins’s approval.
“I’m happier with (the OPP) being here (in Town Hall) than there (at the Post Office),” Winter said. “Certainly, we needed to get out of ‘Fortress St. Marys’,” — as the current location is sometimes called.
“But I’m still not convinced they’ll be overly visible tucked in this corner down here.”
PSB Secretary Jim Hutton, who was also in attendance at the Council meeting, agreed the level of police accessibility is not likely to be enhanced significantly after the move to Town Hall. He said the renovated office — in space currently occupied by a portion of the town’s Treasury department — will feature a locked door with a buzzer for any member of the public who wants to see an officer.
“The door will be locked even if someone is in (the office),” Hutton clarified. If the officer is busy doing paperwork or other tasks, it’s possible they won’t come to the door. But if they’re not busy with pressing matters, they may speak to the person — as is the case at the current location.
Hutton suggested, however, that even the parking of OPP cruisers at Queen and Church Streets, as opposed to Jones and Wellington, will have a positive effect.
McLlwain also noted there will be enhanced opportunities for interaction between Town staff and police.
Councillor Don Van Galen, meanwhile, argued that the legacy left by Cousins, who stepped down as PSB chair after several years in late 2012, has more to do with putting police officers on the streets than putting them in an office downtown.
Van Galen credited Cousins with leading the negotiation of the current contract between the OPP and the town, which expires in 2014. He agreed this led to a decreased accessibility at the Post Office location, but it also translated into more police coverage on the street.
“I think it’s going to be a welcome change for the town,” argued Van Galen, regarding the move to Town Hall.
Grose also offered strong support for the relocation.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that (the Post Office) building is for sale,” the Mayor said.
He added that the state of repair in the Wellington Street building is not great.
“We’ve all been up to the top of the Post Office, and I’m sure that none of us would like to go to work there every day,” Grose commented.