The New Year has arrived and with its arrival, many new opportunities and corresponding challenges will no doubt be the discussions taking place in our district over the next twelve months.  With both Provincial and Municipal elections taking place, there will be numerous topics that will be debated and discussed, regarding both the opportunities and challenges.

One discussion that will probably play out earlier than later, will be regarding the possible look at OPP versus North Bay Police Service.  It has been a topic over the past few months at both coffee shops and in the media and has surfaced at the Council table as well.  It appears that there are differing views around the Council table regarding this subject and the debate will no doubt, be heated.

Costs and the ability to control those same items are difficult at best when over 90% of your budget is comprised of salary and related benefits.  Adding to the mix when it comes to controlling those costs in the longer term, are salary levels which are essentially set by the OPP negotiated contracts and ultimately trickle down through the system via negotiated settlements and or arbitrated settlements, to the individual police forces that are not under direct OPP contracts for policing services.

The lure of cost containment and reductions to already strained municipal budgets is enticing, to say the least.  However, as is with everything, the devil is in the details.  If you were to look at the OPP budget documents from their website, over the past eight years (2017 results not yet available) overall expenditures have risen from 894 million dollars to 2016 level at 1.123 billion dollars or an increase of 229 million dollars. Cost recoveries or income generated from OPP policing contracts have averaged over the past three years at approximately 395 million dollars (recoveries have only been reported on website since 2012-13 fiscal year).

Therefore, based on that number, 725 million dollars was borne by the Ontario tax payer for services outside the contract police servicing/recovery side of their business.  It could very well be argued that although full cost recovery is to be made on the contract policing side, the overall individual taxpayer in a municipality where OPP provide the services, are being double taxed for services, once municipally and once provincially.  When you look inside the billing model, one can see that weighted averages are utilized for billing purposes and that they are not an exact science.  As a matter of fact, when you look at the new billing model that took effect on January 1, 2015, it is about as clear as mud, as the saying goes.

There is absolutely no doubt that there will be very divided views on this subject.  Policing is getting far more complex in the delivery of services and there is no doubt that this trend is going to continue.  Provincial budgets will continue to be under pressure and if one looks at the increasing overall budget of the OPP and what appears to be a relatively stagnant, recovery of costs (contract policing), what we may compare, as per household cost, is probably not a true and accurate cost.  If Council decides to pursue the costing, lets be sure to compare apples to apples.

Peter Chirico is the President & CEO of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce