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Toronto Taxpayers in Ontario cottage country face soaring policing costs

The Ontario government has announced a new billing formula that will result in sharp increases in the cost of local policing for cottage country communities such as Muskoka and Haliburton County.

MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS

The Ontario government has announced a new billing formula that will result in sharp increases in the cost of local policing for cottage country communities such as Muskoka and Haliburton County.

The new model, announced Thursday by Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi, could double Ontario Provincial Police costs for Haliburton residents and result in a rise of between 45 to 75 per cent for property owners in the Muskoka region.

The formula for how the OPP charges the more than 300 municipalities where it provides local policing services has not been updated since 1998. Two years ago, the Auditor-General called for a more transparent model of billing.

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Mr. Naqvi said the new model will reduce existing inequities in local policing costs, which were a result of the OPP using a number of different methods – among them, linking funding to crime rates. "In the new billing model, everyone is treated equally," he said Thursday during a conference call with media.

The OPP generated $362-million in revenue in 2012 from providing local policing services. The new model will not result in an increase in overall revenue, but it does substantially change how each community's bill is determined. There will be a base cost of $203 annually for every property in a municipality, which represents 60 per cent of the total bill. The other 40 per cent is a variable charge, based on calls for service. On average, municipalities will be charged about $355 per property each year.

Policing costs will increase in more than 200 municipalities and will decline in 115 communities, Mr. Naqvi said. For municipalities where the model will result in higher charges, the increase will be capped at $40 a year per property, over the next five years.

"This is massive," said Paul MacInnes, chair of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners' Associations, after learning of the province's decision. "It fundamentally changes everything. We will have to cut back on social programs and road maintenance to pay for policing."

His views were echoed by Julie Stevens, commissioner of finance and corporate services for the District Municipality of Muskoka. "The increase in taxes that will be needed to pay for policing is not affordable," Ms. Stevens said.

The communities that are most affected by the new billing model are ones with large numbers of seasonal residents, since every property is included in the formula. "Phasing it in delays the pain a little longer but the fundamental unfairness remains," Mr. MacInnes said. "About 80 per cent of our residents are seasonal. We don't have a lot of crime."

The current average bill for policing services in Haliburton County is $143 annually for each property owner. "When we asked the question of whether we were paying the cost of our local detachment, the answer was yes," Mr. MacInnes said.

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Communities with large seasonal populations still receive extensive year-round policing, Mr. Naqvi said. "It does not mean that the OPP is not going around to make sure properties are safe," he said. As well, the minister suggested that cottage country regions receive enhanced policing services in the summer at no extra charge.

"I would disagree with that," Mr. MacInnes responded. He noted that in Haliburton, there are no additional staff attached to the local detachment in the summer.

Bob Young, mayor of the township of Lake of Bays in Muskoka, expressed disappointment that little has been done to deal with the steadily rising cost of municipal policing in Ontario, which has increased at three times the annual rate of inflation since 2002. "The OPP do a good job. But it's a question of what we can afford," he said.

OPP officers have received salary increases totalling 13.5 per cent over the past four years, and the current base salary for a first-class constable is $94,000. The collective agreement between the OPP and the province expires at the end of this year.

Mr. Naqvi said he did not want to talk about the collective-bargaining process in the media, and that it was in the hands of the province's negotiators. However, he also indicated that Premier Kathleen Wynne has been clear that "there is no new money" for wage increases.

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