Concerns about costing, service and response times took centre stage at a public meeting on the future of policing in Stirling-Rawdon Wednesday night.
Nearly 200 people packed the Stirling Festival Theatre for the meeting aimed at conveying the results of a recent Ontario Provincial Police costing.
“We are facing a very real budget crisis,” explained Mayor Rodney Cooney illustrating the municipality is $3 million over compared to other municipal budgets. Pointing to an estimated 20% tax increase he said there are two ways the municipality can fix it – “raise taxes or cut expenses.”
Currently the municipality is paying $1.8 million a year for policing however Mayor Rodney Cooney projected that will increase to $2.4 million by 2018.
It works out to on average $355 per property with OPP, where right now Stirling Rawdon is sitting around $850.
If council decides to go with the OPP service, it would cost $1.564 million over three years. Also year one of transitional costs would equate to $217,015. Year four costing would be based on Stirling-Rawdon property count and similar to neighbouring municipalities: Centre Hastings paid $757,624, Marmora and Lake $879,672 and Tweed $1.081 million. Stirling-Rawdon would then come under the Central Hastings OPP umbrella which covers the aforementioned municipalities along with Madoc.
While Cooney wouldn’t give a definite total on how much the municipality would save with OPP, when pressed by the audience and Quinte News, he stated it’s roughly $300,000 in savings for the first three years.
To resident Edith Ray, the choice was simple.
“We cannot afford this police force,”she said when she stepped up to the mic calling the move to OPP inevitable.
Former Stirling-Rawdon police officer Tom Andrews wasn’t so sure the switch to OPP would benefit the municipality, asking if there will be 24-hour coverage and what response times will look like, especially in the event of a serious occurrence.
Centre Hastings OPP detachment Commander Scott Semple said there is a chance Stirling-Rawdon will have round the clock coverage and sometimes with two or three officers. At present, Centre Hastings OPP has 35 uniformed members and if combined with Stirling-Rawdon’s nine, Scott said he would have 44 in total.
Liane Spong, case manager with the Municipal Policing Bureau, explained to the crowd that while the OPP tracks many forms of data they don’t track response times because police calls aren’t based on a ‘from point A to point B’ like other emergency response teams. She said the data wouldn’t be conclusive because officers are sometimes close to the call and other times they are coming from other areas.
Within the municipality, officers receive about 2.3 calls for service per 12-hour shift or 1.5 calls if traffic cases are subtracted explained Mayor Cooney. Police Chief Dario Cecchin said the police service handles about 1,700 cases per year and they are looking at bringing four more officers on.
Council has six months, with the due date now July 23, to make a decision on the proposal. Ultimately the Ontario Civilian Police Commission will have the final decision on whether or not to grant council’s request if they decide to go the OPP route explained Mayor Cooney.