Costs of policing Wellington County projected to bump tax rate in 2022

WELLINGTON COUNTY – It’s that time of year, when the Police Services Board peers into the crystal ball of what policing costs could be for the year ahead.

The estimated OPP contract breakdown, provided to the board each fall, provides a forecast for what taxpayers will be on the hook for in 2022.

Next year’s total is expected to ring in at $17.4 million. But that doesn’t take into account other costs that contribute to the overall policing budget.

The OPP’s billing model, used to calculate costs for municipalities across Ontario that use the provincial police agency, is based on property counts from Municipal Property Assessment Corporation data—including residential, commercial and industrial properties.

The model also looks at the cost associated with an estimated call volume for the entire province next year—176.9 million calls—and assigns a share of that volume (3.28%) to the county, based on past years.

For the county next year, the billing total breaks down to $428.34 for each of the 38,583 households and 2,056 commercial and industrial properties here.

Those taxpayer dollars are used to cover base services, call responses, overtime, prisoner transportation and enhancements to the base contract.

Base services are things like patrols, crime prevention, RIDE programs, training and administration—accounting for $6.9 million of the total cost, or roughly 40% of the per-property cost.

There were 333 properties added in the county since 2021, and the base service cost per property has dropped by $5.41 since last year.

Calls for service, thought to require officer response, are expected to ring in at $5.8 million, or roughly 33% of the cost-per-property cost. That’s up by $2.66 from last year, despite a decrease in overall call share spread out across the county.

With 13,547 annual calls for service in the county (averaged out between 2017 and 2020) each call requiring an officer response in 2022 would cost an estimated $428.56.

“I feel very comfortable with that but like everything, the cost of doing business, it always goes up, there’s no doubt about that,” Police Services Board chair and former county warden and Centre Wellington mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj told the Advertiser.

Overtime is estimated to ring in at $408,829 ($10.06 per property) and prisoner court transportation at $69,493 ($1.71 per property). Both of those estimates are based on previous years’ activity.

The next big cost is made up of “contract enhancements”—essentially whatever goes above and beyond what the OPP says is needed to provide policing. For example, canine services are expected to cost $34,324; ATVs $5,406; and two administrative vehicles $10,766.

“We have input … so the OPP are not just telling us that ‘this is all you’re going to get, tell us what more you need,’” Ross-Zuj said of contract enhancements.

In total, contract enhancements are estimated to account for $4.1 million next year. Uniform member salaries account for most of that amount, at over $3 million. Salary estimates include rising rates—1.85% for uniforms and 1% for civilian staff—previously worked out in an Ontario Provincial Police Association collective agreement covering 2019-22.

Next year, the county will be billed $1.38 million for police services each month.

But the costs are estimates only, which is why at the end of the billing year, actual services are reconciled against the estimates paid for.

“Any adjustments required as a result of the recalculation of 2022 costs will be included as a prior year-end adjustment in the 2024 annual billing statement issued in the fall 2023,” an OPP document states.

In other words, the amount overpaid is credited back two years later, and the county’s bean counters work this reality as best as possible, based off historical experience, into yearly budgets to gauge what policing will really cost.

The last reconciliation completed for 2020, worked out to $741,715 which will be deducted from the monthly payments next year.

An OPP billing statement sets out the most significant adjustments coming from “the cost of actual versus estimated municipal requirements for overtime, contract enhancements and court security.”

“That puts us in a really good position as we get back to normal practices to put into place some of the programs that we’ve been working on and wanted to enhance for the better of public safety,” Ross-Zuj said.

Part of the recovered cost, she explained, was because the new addition of a community safety services staff sergeant didn’t go ahead as planned.

According to Ross-Zuj, the new staff addition is still expected, which will lower the amount credited back to the county in 2024.

The county also plans to allot funds for the hiring of another officer each year from 2022 to 2030, meaning there could be two new uniform staff joining the ranks by the end of next year, including the new staff sergeant.

According to county treasurer Ken DeHart, several additional costs factor into the overall budget calculation for policing.

The county also pays for operations of police detachments in Aboyne, Rockwood and Teviotdale, cleaning staff, parking ticket administration (parking ticket software was $60,000 this year), upgrades at detachments ($50,000 worth of furniture is expected to be replaced next year at the Teviotdale location), and debt charges.

And then there’s money collected through grants, fines, penalties, record check fees, reconciliation credits and cash used from reserves, which all go back into covering the cost of policing.

So, while the OPP bill for 2021 was estimated at $17.2 million, it ended up working out to $16.9 million in the 2021 county budget before those additional expenses were added in.

With the other expenses added in, taxpayers were on the hook for $17.7 million all said and done.

For 2022, the projected all-in expense for taxpayers is expected to come in at roughly $18 million, according to an Advertiser review of data from the OPP’s estimated contract costs and projections from the county 2021 budget.

While DeHart was reticent to provide preliminary numbers ahead of their reveal next month to the PSB, a ballpark tax rate increase of 1.75% over last year’s 1.2% increase can be expected to support the rising police budget.

County warden and Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton said the county consistently ranks at the “top of the list” for safest communities in Canada.

“That’s not by accident … we do a lot of things right,” he said, adding one of those things is ensuring “our OPP have the funds that they need.”

“Every year we take a hard look at everything that we’re doing … we always ask the question of what the county’s getting in terms of services for the money that we’re spending,” Linton said.

“We know that we have to stay within people’s ability to pay when it comes to a tax rate increase.”

Overall, Linton believes there’s a feeling the county is getting “really good service” in return for money spent and he said he has “no challenges at all” with the OPP budget, adding it’s “always stretched the way it is” and “they could always have more budget.”

According to the county’s 10-year budget outlook, the burden on taxpayers for policing will increase by 51.6% from this year’s budget to $26.8 million by 2030.

The final 2022 budget, containing provisions for policing, is expected to appear before council on Jan. 27.