St. Marys Journal Argus
Small-town and rural municipal governments across Ontario are scrambling as they head into budget deliberations for 2014, as they face the certainty of a significant increase in the amount they’ll have to set aside to pay for police coverage.
“It’s a drastic increase . . . and it goes right back to the taxpayers,” confirmed Municipality of Thames Centre Mayor Jim Maudesley, in an interview with the Journal Argus on Monday.
Maudesley, who’s also a member of Thames Centre’s Police Services Board, was responding to a request to clarify statements made in a letter to the editor (published in this week's St. Marys Journal Argus, as well as in the "Letters" section of this website) from a Thames Centre ratepayer, urging the municipal council to come up with creative ways to deal with the projected increase in policing costs for 2014, without raising taxes.
Letter-writer Bill Ross cited a projected $138,000 cost increase for Thames Centre for policing coverage. Maudesley couldn’t confirm the exact amount, but he agreed with Ross that it will be significant.
And the veteran municipal politician puts the blame squarely on the provincial government, which three years ago signed a wage freeze deal with the union representing Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers. That deal was only struck on the condition that, after the three years were up, OPP officers would move into a position among the highest-paid police officers in the province.
Effective Jan. 1 of this year, that stipulation took effect. And Maudesley says that, despite months of lobbying efforts by the Ontario Police Services Boards Association, the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has provided no financial cushion for the change.
“It feels like there was no consideration given to any municipality when they made this deal,” he said.
With a draft 2014 budget now in the works, Thames Centre councillors are looking at the effects of an approximately 8.5 per cent increase in wages for OPP officers that will have to be factored in before they get an initial look in late January. From there, he hopes to have a municipal budget finalized by late February or early March.
The mayor did, however, counter a suggestion by the letter-writing Ross that contracting out some policing could be a solution. Maudesley explained that, in the Thames Centre agreement for service through the Strathroy-based Middlesex County OPP detachment, the provincial Police Services Act must be followed. That means the municipality has no influence over how many officers are deployed to Thames Centre, for how many hours.
What the local Police Services Board can do, he said, is make decisions about how those officers are deployed. Some types of activities cost more or less than others, and savings are possible.