OPP hirings, wage increase will move ahead despite concerns

A pay hike of 8.55 per cent for OPP officers in Wellington County and across the province is raising concern as the county works through its 2014 budget along with its seven lower tier municipalities.

The wage hike will add about $1.2 million to the county budget, including an anticipated $280,000 to hire new officers, which means OPP costs could run at about $20 million this year, county treasurer Ken DeHart told council at a special budget meeting earlier this month.

County councillor John Green, chairman of the administration, finance and personnel committee, has already questioned the additional hiring of officers in Wellington after the county was named the safest community in Canada last year by Maclean’s magazine.

The county beat out the Town of Caledon, which held the title for the past four years.

The finding is based on a cross-country survey by Maclean’s and also on 2009 crime statistics from Statistics Canada.

The statistics are based on information obtained by police forces from the nation’s 100 largest population centres – and includes cities and towns with at least 10,000 residents. The study was based on rates for crimes such as murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault, vehicle theft, robbery and break and enters.

Warden Chris White said he is also concerned about the proposed OPP budget hike, but added there is little the county can do with increases negotiated between the provincial government and Ontario Provincial Police Association.

The OPP contract saw officers receive a pay hike of 5% in the first year, a wage freeze in the next two years and the 8.55% hike this year.

When asked why the increases were not phased in over the four-year period, White speculated the freeze was put in by the province during a period when the government was looking at zero increases among its civil servants.

“We knew it was coming, but it’s still a big hit,” White said.

The county, according to the warden, is “very happy with the OPP” services provided in Wellington.

Figures released by DeHart show OPP contract costs were $15,006,767 in 2011, $16,131,050 in 2012, about $16,610,000 in 2013, with a 2014 budget estimate of $17,796,000  – before the new hirings and wage increases.

The county recently deferred approving its current five-year OPP contract after the province and OPP senior administration decided to look at a new billing model for the OPP.

The new billing model is expected to give greater accountability of OPP services to municipalities.

County police services board member Ray Tout expects the proposed hirings, as set out by DeHart and including a new sergeant and two civilian positions, will take place in 2014. The positions were included in the OPP contract deferred by council.

“We’re still going with the original plan,” Tout said.

DeHart also indicated two new uniformed positions are proposed each year from 2015 to 2018.

According to Tout, future proposed hirings will come under debate at the county level in a bid to keep costs down.

Wellington OPP employs 111 constables and 12 administrative and civilian personnel, according to detachment commander Inspector Scott Lawson in an earlier interview with the Advertiser.

Lawson could not be reached to comment on planned and future hirings at the detachment.