Sometimes, rabbit holes are covered by thorns.
A request was received from Penetanguishene resident Peter Hayden asking for further clarity to the $373,953 impact of OPP policing costs to the town, which has kept the municipality at odds with the province for the past while.
“One of the issues that has not been identified to the residents of Penetang (unless I missed it somewhere) is the population and revenue tax base of the 25 municipalities paying for this provincial policing service at the facility located within their municipal borders,” wrote Hayden.
“It would be helpful for all of us to compare how much the other communities are paying annually for this service, and what percentage is that of their collected tax base.”
Hayden’s question touches upon three variables within the equation: Population, annual payment and collected or revenue tax base.
However, there are some problems with defining the specifics for those answers.
- The bottom line
Let’s start first with what we know. The billing model page of the OPP website hosts much of the source material for the equation; specifically, the ‘2015-22 Municipal Costs with Chart’ spreadsheet which holds the policing costs for all 293 municipalities within Ontario that the OPP bills.
The total cost for OPP billing to Penetanguishene in 2022 is estimated at $2,083,301 and the 2021 estimated total is $1,709,348; the difference between these two years is the $373,953 amount which is the core of the town’s argument. It is uncertain as of yet what the 2023 estimate will be, but staff admitted at the final 2022 draft budget meeting of council that the stabilization reserve used to mitigate the policing impact was a one-time ticket without the means to replenish it in upcoming years.
As far as differences go, Penetanguishene’s $373,953 difference is the highest for all 293 municipalities with a 21.9% year-over-year cost variance.
Kenora, which hosts the provincially-run Kenora Jail, is next with a $295,239 difference and a 4.6% year-over-year cost variance. Other municipalities have varying levels of numbers and percentages, but in keeping with Hayden’s request, it should be noted that Greater Napanee (with the Quinte Detention Centre) had a $191,600 difference with 2.2% variance.
- The fuzzy property counts
In simple terms, according to the OPP 2018 ‘Municipal Policing Frequently Asked Questions’ found on the billing model page, property counts are comprised of household, commercial and industrial properties within a municipality, updated annually based on MPAC data. There are exceptions, exclusions and amendments for some municipalities, and so a blanket property count cannot be placed upon the province as a whole.
The issue with Hayden’s request for “population” is that while 2016 Census data is easy to find – Penetanguishene had a pop. of 8,962 as of 2016 – the OPP billing model is calculated using property counts instead, with an estimate of 4,269 for 2022. This is true for all other municipalities as well.
The Township of Georgian Bay took issue with the OPP calculation differences for property counts in May of 2021, bringing forward a discussion at a council meeting for staff to compare municipal statistics provided by their own planning staff against the apparent discrepancy of MPAC data.
To summarize, it remains unclear if the 4,269 property count for Penetanguishene is the actual number of the town’s household, commercial and industrial properties estimated for 2022; however, that figure is the variable that the OPP has stated and used within their calculations which the provincial municipalities have accepted.
- Annual payments and the cost per property
The OPP billing model stated a $488 cost per property to Penetanguishene, by means of dividing the $2,083,301 total cost by the 4,269 estimated 2022 property count.
As Hayden asked for comparisons of the municipalities’ annual payments, it should be noted that Wellington County (which doesn’t contain a provincially-run correctional facility) has a 2022 estimated total cost of $17,407,368 and property count of 40,639 for a cost per property of just $428. Annual payments are managed individually by each municipality through budget processes and intermingled in complex financial ways; however, the OPP-provided cost per property values are a constant, and are thus comparable.
Kenora’s property count of 8,002 gives their city an $833 per property cost; the highest for all the 293 municipalities. Second is the town of Fort Frances and their provincially-run jail with a $656 cost per property, with a municipal property count comparable to Penetanguishene of 4,081 and a similar total cost of $2,675,449. Penetanguishene sits at 24th overall on this list, and fourth for provincially-run facilities behind Greater Napanee’s $505 cost per property.
- Tax bases
Calculating a percentage of the collected tax base for each municipality, as per Hayden’s request, is also difficult as budgets shift to accommodate certain circumstances. When Penetanguishene anticipated the total potential tax impact of 3.1% which the loss of CNCC (Central North Correctional Centre) policing cost recovery would affect, finance staff were in motion looking at ways to offset the end cost to the residents of the town by the time the final 2022 draft budget was introduced.
It’s enough to make one’s head spin.
Hayden concluded his correspondence with MidlandToday in support of Penetanguishene council and staff, stating “that this amount of ‘additional payment’ to the provincial government is simply a ‘cop out’ on their part to pay for any required external policing services to operate each of these provincially owned and operated facilities.”
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca