Nothing gets a taxpayer’s attention like news that taxes might be going up considerably in the near future.
The word that Belleville city council might consider changing the way the costs of the Belleville Police Service are paid for brought a very focused group of people to the Gerry Masterson Community Centre in Foxboro tonight (Wednesday).
About 100 mostly rural Thurlow ward residents filled the hall to hear information on area rating, taxes and who pays what for policing.
Director of Finance Brian Cousins made the presentation, but it wasn’t long before a man interrupted, suggesting Thurlow residents should never pay the same for policing as those in urban Belleville, because they didn’t get anywhere near the service and hardly ever saw a police cruiser.
Others echoed that sentiment, and a few people suggested city council should consider switching to the OPP to lower costs.
Some residents thought there needed to be more hard information on calls for service, population, and the amount of patrol done in the various parts of the city, with one woman suggesting the Police Chief should’ve attended.
The Chief is away at a conference. Residents were assured more data would be made available as the process continued and that more public meetings could be held in coming weeks.
In his presentation, Mr. Cousins said under the current system, in place since amalgamation in 1998, urban taxpayers picked up 96% of the police budget, with rural Thurlow residents paying the other 4%. With the budget totaling around 17 million dollars a year, Thurlow ratepayers are paying $690,000 of the service’s cost.
Mayor Taso Christopher said there are those in the city that feel that amount is not enough, and in responding to suggestions that the OPP should be used, said “there’s no way in this galaxy that the OPP could ever police this large an area for only $690,000.
Mayor Christopher said any discussion on police services and police costs was always “gut wrenching” but that it was council’s duty to gather all of the information possible and to try to be as fair as possible to all of the citizens in the community, and that that process was now underway.
Here are the options presented to Thurlow residents last night regarding taxes and the police service.
First was keeping the status quo. Urban ratepayers pick up 96% of the tab, with rural Thurlow paying the other 4%.
On a $250,000 house, that means urban residents pay $714 a year for policing, while rural taxpayers pay $230 annually.
A second option would be to eliminate area rating altogether, with every taxpayer paying the same for policing.
Under this system, urban residents would see a $20 increase in taxes for policing, while Thurlow ratepayers would see a steep rise of $504 a year.
Another option would spread the pain out for rural residents, by taking two or more years to eliminate area rating.
The last option presented by city staff was dividing up costs by property assessments, which would see urban residents paying 85% of police services costs, while rural Thurlow taxpayers pay the other 15%.
This option would mean $81 less a year in police taxes for people in urban Belleville, while Thurlow
taxpayers would see taxes go up sharply, by $631.
No decisions have been made, and a few residents suggested that other options for deciding who pays what for policing could include calculating by population, by the number of calls actually responded to by police officers, or by population density.
Both Brian Cousins and Mayor Christopher said council will see a final report some time next month and may or may not make a decision on the issue at that time.
People with ideas or comments should contact Brian Cousins at the City of Belleville, or go the city’s website. Information will be gathered for the rest of this month.
Another public meeting on police costs and taxes will be held tomorrow night (Thursday) at city hall beginning at 7 o’clock.