Penetanguishene barely passes OPP's superjail billing model during contentious vote

·3 min read

A rare combination of circumstances surrounded Penetanguishene council's decision to approve the OPP contract billing model, following a split 5-4 vote, which raised eyebrows and left some shaking their heads.

Of importance is to note that the motion was moved first by Coun. Michel Mayotte and seconded by Coun. Brian Cummings.

Coun. Dan LaRose began the discussion by asking for an update on the billing model, which had been much discussed during previous months by council members.

Since 2006, policing costs with the provincially-operated Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) have been reimbursed by the province annually based on calls for service through full-time equivalent heads to beds at the jail. Early last year, a representative from the ministry of the Solicitor General notified the town of Penetanguishene that the treasury board had cancelled all contracts for the recovery of policing costs for correctional institutions across the province.

Furthermore, the town was billed close to $800,000 for unpaid invoices covering 2020 and 2021.

Town staff met virtually with ministry staff in March to confirm that the ministry would take responsibility and pay for the outstanding invoices. However, it was also made clear that the long-standing agreement on cost recovery for policing services would officially end at CNCC effective January 1, 2022, with the province no longer reimbursing Penetanguishene.

The province of Ontario is initializing a Community Safety & Policing Act for all municipalities requiring them to switch to the standard billing model, which is a provincial base amount per property and estimates based on a four-year rolling average of actual calls for service.

Town staff looked into the differences between adopting the new OPP billing model based on FTEs versus the province’s forced CSPA model, finding that approving the former would allow for slightly greater cost savings of an unknown amount in the future, and recommended it to council as the better option.

Town CAO Jeff Lees informed LaRose that the mayor and staff had been phoning and sending correspondence to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones with an invite to MPP Jill Dunlop, in attempts to meet and discuss the matter once more. MPP Dunlop has yet to respond.

“I just wonder if it wouldn’t be prudent on our part to not pass this new OPP billing model,” replied LaRose. “I, for one, am totally against this. This is going to cost our municipality somewhere between $400,000 to $500,000 a year, so why would we be in any hurry to pass a new model?”

Mayor Doug Leroux, Lees, and finance director Carrie Robillard all tried to convince LaRose that the billing model and the lack of correspondence were two separate issues, with Leroux expressing disappointment towards for failing to respond.

LaRose fired back that the two issues were interlinked as a means for the province to shepherd other instances in a similar means.

“That way, any community that has an institution like ours is just going to get 'snafued' by this.”

The 20-minute conversation was enough to sway council to split the vote as a 4-4 tie, with Mayotte absent from the virtual meeting, suffering through technical difficulties while remaining the tie-breaking vote.

After reconnecting to the meeting five minutes later, staff informed council that Mayotte’s vote would be counted as yes regardless, as a result of his being the first to bring the motion to table.

Passed as a 5-4 resolution, many of council’s staff and members simply shook their heads in disbelief.

The motion moves from committee of the whole, and will be addressed at the regular council meeting on July 14.

Penetanguishene council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca