The Ontario Provincial Police are the among province's finest, but now they're about to be ranked among its most expensive after an 8.55 per cent pay raise comes into effect this year, putting extra strain on already-stretched budgets of the 334 communities in Ontario that use the provincial police service.
The bump in salary follows a two-year wage freeze imposed on all public servants by the provincial government and puts the wages of a first-class OPP constable at $94,702, up from $87,240 in 2013. An OPP sergeant now makes $106,483 up from $98,093 last year.
"An OPP constable would be at the extreme top end of our municipal pay scale," Norfolk County Police Services Board Chair Peter Hellyer said, noting his community of 60,000 people is paying $1 million more for the same exact same police service it had last year, putting Norfolk's total police budget to $14 million.
"You don't really have any choice. It's the difference between having to pay and wanting to pay," he said. "Almost every police officer in Norfolk County will be on the 'sunshine list' this year, which means they'll make over $100,000 a year."
OPP salaries negotiated by the province
In Wellington County, Warden Chris White said his community is also struggling to make room in their budget for the extra $1.2 million needed to pay for the 120 OPP officers who patrol the area.
"It's a big chunk of dough," he said. "Municipalities' budgets are stretched across the board on everything. This is just one more item and in the case of Wellington County this is a large item."
White added his community pays $20 million dollars a year for OPP service. Wellington is among the 334 communities that use the provincial police force to keep the peace.
The communities negotiate their own contracts for police service, but how much each individual officer is paid is out of their control since it's negotiated by the province.
White said it's forcing his community to focus on what it can control when its contract with the OPP ends this year.
"We will be taking a good hard look at the number of officers because at the end of the day we can't control the wages, that's negotiated at the provincial level and this is a big, big chunk of our budget."
Union says cities had fair warning
While the 8.5 per cent raise for OPP officers is straining the balance books of some local governments, it doesn't come as a surprise, according to Jim Christie, the President of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.
"It is obviously is a large salary increase, which the municipalities would be rightly concerned about," he told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Friday, "this pay increase has been well-documented and well-explained to the municipalities."
"They would know they would have to plan for this."
OPP officers were among the thousands public servants working for the province who had their wages frozen for two years under Premier Dalton McGuinty, when his government attempted to bring in a regimen of fiscal restraint in 2010.
"We accepted zero per cent pay increases for 2012 and 2013 with an understanding that in 2014, which we're seeing now, the OPP officers and civilian members would be brought back up to a level, but not a penny more, of the highest paid police service in Ontario," Christie said.
"It's like buying a TV at Leon's or the Brick. You know, they bought it. The payments have been deferred for three years and now it's time to bring our officers back up to the level they should be."