Penetanguishene councillor calls province's reneging on promise 'bunch of crud'

·5 min read

The Town of Penetanguishene will not kowtow the line when it comes to recovering nearly $870,000 in correctional service policing costs from the province.

"We have to get after the province," said Coun. Dan LaRose at a council meeting Wednesday. "As most of us that were there at the time, this was an absolute guarantee from the provincial government that they would pay for all policing costs for that facility. For them to pull this part way through the game and not want to pay taxes is a bunch of crud.

"There's absolutely no way that the residents of the Town of Penetanguishene should be paying one nickel toward any of that," he added. "There are ways and means that we can make this happen whether they like it or not, it all depends on how much oomph we want to put into it."

He was reacting to the information in a report presented by CAO Jeff Lees, who outlined for council what the situation currently was and what options the town has in approaching the issue.

"There's been a long-standing agreement for those 15 plus years for those policing costs at that facility to be reimbursed," he said. "In 2015, when there was a major overhaul of the OPP billing model, the Town of Penetanguishene through political leadership lobbied to maintain separate reporting for the town's policing costs, which essentially broke out the CNCC (Central North Correctional Centre) costs."

Two years ago, the town renewed their contract with the OPP, with the understanding that the same billing method for the CNCC will continue to be followed, said Lees, adding this is not an OPP issue, it's a Ministry of Solicitor General matter.

"At the time, we wouldn't have had a way to recognize what those CNCC costs were and wouldn't have had an opportunity to cost recover those funds because we wouldn't have known to what the extent of calls for service expenses were," he said. "We stayed status quo."

Lees outlines in his report to council that last year, on March 19, town staff received a voicemail from the ministry telling them that the treasury board had cancelled all contracts for the recovery of policing costs for correctional institutions. According to the message, the change was to take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Last fall, town staff emailed the ministry requesting clarification on the matter. In October, a ministry voicemail requested copies of the invoices to view, and “get them paid.”

A couple months later, staff sent a letter to the ministry bringing to their attention outstanding invoices for 2020 totalling $490,695. On Dec. 18, town staff were sent an explanation about the program's cancellation in 2019 and that the payments were under review. Staff have not received an update on the matter to-date.

Now the total costs have added up to $870,000, with no sign of a payment coming, said Lees, adding staff will quadruple verify if they received any notification from the ministry around the cancellation.

"I believe other municipalities did because they had formal contracts with the province and we did not," he said.

Lees said there is also a secondary issue that the town has to look at.

"It is the heads and beds funding model," he explained. "We receive about $60,000 in what they call PIL, payment in lieu, for this facility. It's based on the heads and beds model, it's $75 per head/bed, and there are roughly 800 beds in that facility. Out of that money, $10,000 goes to the County of Simcoe and we keep the rest.

"Our policing costs are substantially higher than that," Lees noted, adding the town does not receive taxes from the facility, however, if it did, the total taxes (municipal, education, county, and policing) would be $1.02 million.

Much like LaRose, others on council were also upset by the situation.

Coun. Brian Cummings was surprised to hear the payment in lieu plan wasn't for the full capacity of the facility.

"We were supposed to be guaranteed the beds for heads for the total number of beds in the building (1,200), whether they were occupied or not," he said. "They're not paying us enough to even supply the water to the building, so they're taking advantage of us for sure."

Mayor Doug Leroux agreed: "When we were going through the process of negotiations to have the CNCC here ... I had asked the minister of the time, I can't recall his name, if we would get full taxes because it was a private company that operated it for the first five years. "He said, 'yes.' And a month later, he was no longer the minister."

LaRose, however, recalled the name very well.

"That was Minister Rob Sampson," he said. "He got up lied to us and that was the end of his career."

LaRose was also of the opinion that Penetang should reach out to other municipalities that host correctional facilities to make sure a concerted lobbying effort is made.

Lees said while staff wholeheartedly agrees with approaching other municipalities, the focus right now should be on recovering the 2020 and 2021 costs.

To begin the process, Lees said, staff has been in touch with Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop to set up a meeting for next week to eventually get the matter in front of Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

MidlandToday sent a request to the province for comment on the matter for a follow-up story.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com