Increasing frustration over the inability for Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Leroux and CAO Jeff Lees to have a discussion with Ministry of the Solicitor General Sylvia Jones led to a bold choice of words recently.
At the first 2022 draft budget meeting of council, where it was said that resident taxpayers could see an estimated $345,090 or 3.1% policing tax increase to the town’s total budget next year, Leroux once again expressed his renewed intent to have a face-to-face meeting with Jones.
“I do intend to write the Solicitor General again reiterating that we want, require and request a face-to-face meeting. And we are going to cc the premier on this. We will keep council abreast and in the loop and we’ll have a report at our October 13 council meeting, at which time maybe I will be looking at an in-camera session,” Leroux told council.
MidlandToday reached out to the Ministry of the Solicitor General for comment, asking if Jones would agree to Leroux’s request for a meeting; and if so, if that meeting would be well in advance of the next meeting of Penetanguishene council.
In a written response, Stephen Warner, Jones' press secretary and senior communications strategist, provided the following statement:
“This adjustment brings Central North Correctional Complex and the municipality of Penetanguishene in-line with the remaining 24 provincial correctional facilities in Ontario,” wrote Warner.
“Staff with the Ministry of the Solicitor General have been in regular contact with staff at the municipality for a number of months regarding their concerns. As a result of this dialogue, we understand that the municipality has agreed to switch to a ‘Calls for Service’ billing model for policing, which will save taxpayers’ dollars as compared to the billing model that would otherwise take effect in 2022.
"Additionally, our ministry is providing interim funding up until 2022 in order to support the municipality in the transition. We will continue to support Penetanguishene as they work through this process.”
Warner added further background to the statement provided. “We anticipate that Penetanguishene’s policing costs, using the ‘Calls for Service’ billing model, will be less than $400,000, and have shared this information with municipal staff. We continue to review the information presented by Penetanguishene at the 2020 AMO conference in August.”
Over the past months, Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Leroux and CAO Jeff Lees have been attempting to speak to Jones in regards to Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) policing costs, which stem from Southern Georgian Bay OPP officers being dispatched to the jail.
In 2019, a Minister of the Solicitor General representative notified the town that all contracts Ontario-wide for the recovery of policing costs of correctional institutions, including the provincially-operated CNCC, had been cancelled. A new Community Safety & Policing Act was initialized by the province, requiring all municipalities to switch to a standard Calls for Service billing model as of January 1, 2022. The cost had been anticipated to be as high as $400,000 for months by staff, prompting Leroux and Lees to contact Jones for a remedy to the town’s situation. Their ask of the Solicitor General was to have a lengthy and in-depth face-to-face discussion, even including Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop to be a part of the conversation.
At the 2021 Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference this summer, Leroux and Lees were able to secure a 10-minute delegation with Jones, allowing them to briefly discuss the impact of the province’s decision.
The town’s call to action was 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.
It was a disappointment to both Leroux and Lees who added that despite their articulation to the AMO representatives, nothing “other than a broad commitment that the ministry would continue to provide the municipality with appropriate resources” was promised by government.
In addition to the response from the Ministry of the Solicitor General, Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop also stated that she appreciates the added impact the tax increase would have on residents.
The first 2022 draft budget report is available within the special 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