Mayors from a number of communities in the northwest serviced by Ontario Provincial Police are so concerned about the rising cost of policing, they say their municipalities may have to reduce OPP service to save money.
The acting mayor of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls said the community pays the OPP more than $350,000 a year in return for a guaranteed number of policing hours.
"That's basically almost a thousand dollars a day," Jerry O'Leary said.
"It's a big item in our budget … a very big item in our budget. And, needless to say, we're trying to keep tax levies low — as low as we possibly can — and at the same time not jeopardize any services."
O'Leary said scrapping the contract would result in OPP only responding to specific calls for service.
It’s a tough decision to make, as he admits the regular police presence has made a difference.
"We have less break-ins … because of OPP visibility," O'Leary said. "So, we have to weigh all that before we make a final decision."
Mayors from Atikokan, Kenora, Rainy River and Fort Frances are all part of a group asking the province for what they call "fair pricing."
The group, called Mayors' Coalition for Affordable, Sustainable and Accountable Policing (ASAP), states the following in one of its documents:
"While the OPP provides an essential service for rural municipalities, the payment model for this service is dysfunctional, leaving small-town municipal councils with massive and unpredictable annual payments, and an inequitable and unsustainable share of the total provincial cost."
It’s something Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield wants to see change.
"The taxpayer is paying a huge, a huge chunk," he said. "When you compare us to the provincial average, which I believe is somewhere … around $400 dollars a household, we're more than double that."
He noted larger centres in northern Ontario end up paying for the "social cost" of policing. Many people from smaller communities and first nations who visit Kenora end up staying there — meaning Kenora picks up the tab for any necessary additional police services.
Canfield said he wants to see how much the cost of policing will go up up next year, as the OPP has already indicated it may raise its rates. He noted safety is a priority, but Kenora may have no choice but to reduce the service level.
Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown said he hopes the mayors' group will be able to lobby effectively to find a fairer way to bill municipalities for policing.
"The intent is to work with the people in government — and the OPP — and keep the cost of policing down," he said.
Reportedly more than 150 communities already support the goals of the ASAP group.
Thunder Bay police chief J.P. Levesque travelled to Ottawa on Wednesday to take part in a conference discussing the escalating cost of policing in Canada.