Penetanguishene mayor unhappy with solicitor general after superjail policing costs meeting

If you stare long enough into the abyss, sometimes the abyss will grant you ten minutes of conversation.

Providing a follow-up to council on the mid-August delegations at the virtual 2021 Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference, Mayor Doug Leroux expressed disappointment in that weekend’s outcomes during a committee of the whole meeting.

“I have to say that I was not extremely pleased at all with the outcome of that meeting,” said Leroux, “and I felt that the allotment of 10 minutes was much too short to be discussing this issue and bringing it to some kind of fruition or conclusion.”

Penetanguishene has been in a holding pattern regarding access to the Minister of the Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who has been evasive regarding policing costs related to the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC).

Mayor Leroux and CAO Jeff Lees were able to secure four delegation positions in the AMO to discuss municipal matters of importance with various provincial ministers over 10- and 15-minute time periods, one delegation of which was with Jones.

In 2019, the Ministry of the Solicitor General ceased funding for policing at provincial institutions with an intent to roll out a new pricing program in 2022. Penetanguishene residents could be impacted by the new program for as much as $400,000-per-year in taxes, which Leroux and Lees have been struggling to resolve with Jones.

In the white paper provided beforehand, the town’s call to action was to ask for regulatory amendments where the province would fund the CNCC policing costs entirely from 2022 onward, for fair, equitable, and reasonable treatment of residents and businesses in Penetanguishene.

In the 10-minute span with Jones, which was also attended by MPP Jill Dunlop and OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Jones indicated that should change happen, the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) funding would need to be removed but that there are higher levels of safety and investment with the current model, lowering calls for service.

Also, Jones would look into the community benefits of housing the CNCC in Penetanguishene, and the Ministry would contact the town for a separate meeting after pulling together additional information.

Said Mayor Leroux to council, “Along with the CAO and with the blessing of council, we’re going to go further and ask again our MPP, Minister Dunlop, to set up a proper appointment with a face-to-face with the Solicitor General and her department, to bring this thing to a conclusion; we’re not pleased and not happy with what has taken place.”

Council asked CAO Lees to provide an update on the 15-minute delegation with the Minister of Finance regarding the PILT heads-and-beds meeting. The call to action was a complete and thorough review of PILT should be undertaken, providing several options for a better system than the one in place.

“We certainly articulated, as best as we could with Mayor Leroux’s leadership, the municipality's position with respect to the heads-and-beds program, and really feeling that it’s far from being equitable and, quite frankly, fair,” said Lees.

“I think that we were optimistic that we might get a bit of a commitment from the Parliamentary Assistant, that there might be some timing that they could identify when this might be reviewed with the Minister.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get any commitment in that regard, other than a broad commitment that the Ministry would continue to provide the municipality with appropriate resources,” Lees shared.

Lees concluded that if council allowed, articulating the concerns to MPP Dunlop could provide assistance in pushing matters forward with the Ministry of Finance and the Minister of the Solicitor General.

Of the other two AMO delegations that day: the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing was spoken to about the housing crisis with a call to action for legislative changes to the Development Changes Act along with financial aid from the province; and the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries was thanked for help with the Penetanguishene town dock redevelopment project with mention that the town would be seeking grants and partnerships along all government levels.

Coun. Jessica Klug thanked staff for the hard effort poured into preparing the white papers for the conference, and expressed her disappointment in the outcome upon reading the results.

“I know it was a lot of work, and we continue hitting our heads against the wall on a lot of these items, and I’m ready to make noise when we need to.

“Standing by!” Klug added in exclamation, getting a chuckle from council.

The AMO delegation white papers and staff follow-up report are available within the committee of the whole agenda on the town of Penetanguishene website.

Meetings of Penetanguishene council 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

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