Debate over police costs no more than election fodder

First published:
March 12, 2003

The amount of grousing about police costs done by the mayors of Port Hope and Cobourg should be seen as little more than early campaigning for the incumbents for the upcoming November municipal elections.

It cannot be interpreted as a serious concern about taxpayers’ money, or the health of the two municipal forces. Here’s why.

The ad hoc committee of six municipal members from Port Hope, Cobourg and Hamilton Township are looking for a consultant. The idea is to look at the status quo with two separate municipal police forces; or a combined force or OPP service.

The mayors are complaining bitterly about the massive costs, saying it eats up a major portion of the municipal budget. Cobourg residents spend about 26 cents of every tax dollar on policing and in Port Hope it is 32 cents.

If the two municipalities were really serious about the situation, the committee would have been formed just after former Cobourg Chief John Kay resigned. In fact, the police associations asked for a study, but nobody could be bothered.

It was an ideal moment, since an amalgamation would have meant the savings of a chief’s salary. Now, on the eve of an announcement about a new Cobourg police chief, the two mayors are crying for a study. If they are serious, then stop the hiring, do a study, then act.

Besides, if amalgamation or a takeover by the OPP were to occur, taxpayers would be left footing the bill with compensation packages dealing with two chiefs instead of one.

Also, if the study had been done back in the fall, we would have heard the results by now, public input could have taken place, and the entire issue would be done.

The need for a consultant at this time should also be questioned. Amalgamation of the two forces was only studied seriously three years ago prior to the last municipal election. Cobourg was completely rejected.

The ink on the reports is barely dry. If saving taxpayers’ money is so important, why not let administrative staff at the two forces update the figures.

The police boards could also ask the officers and civilian staff for ideas and incorporate those. If OPP seriously wants to take over, then it would file its own report.

Put it all together and, bingo, one updated study. (The consultants will only do this anyway. Where do you think they get their information from?) Taxpayers get to save all those consulting fees. It is also important to notice none of the politicians is saying how much the consultant will be paid.

And the sniping about increased costs? Please don’t forget who sits on the police services board: mayors and councillors. The whole idea behind the police services board was to remove the municipal manipulation that went on about a decade ago when town councils used to be in charge. The NDP government of the day decided to de-politicize the process (especially budget deliberations) by creating police board appointed by the province.

Where were Delanty and Austin when the budget talks were going on? They had their say. The board has voted. To use the mayor’s chair in council to grandstand is crazy. It only demonstrates how spineless they are on the board. (Delanty is probably angry over the police association’s contract with an 11 per cent increase.)

Obviously neither Delanty nor Austin could mount a decent argument at the police board level so they are going to play politics with the budget after it was approved. Sorry guy, too late. You should have done your job earlier. If you lost the debate at that table, suck it up.

So why the entire hullabaloo, you say?

Both men are considering re-election. There are two fronts they can advance on using the police issue.

First, Delanty and Austin want to look like tax-fighters, pit bulls of the budget process. This is an easy one because there is little they can really do once the budgets are before council and civilians on the police boards outnumber them. This makes pointing fingers really easy. Finally, citizens will pay pretty much anything for public safety.

The second front is a bit more complex. Delanty promised improved relations with Port Hope during the last election. He also pronounced increased co-operation. Other than a couple of public relations gestures, there is no measurable difference than three years ago. The clock is ticking. This was one issue he hammered former mayor Joan Chalovich over during his campaign. Delanty needs to appear to be doing something on this level.

For Austin, he can win on this one either way it goes. If a good deal comes of it and public support is ripe, then he will look like a hero for saving tax dollars. If not, he can tell Cobourg to take a hike and he will appear to be fending of the Huns from Cobourg once again.

Port Hope only decided on its current policing situation two years ago. It would be hard to imagine why citizens of Port Hope would want to do this.

The whole thing stinks. Right now there is not a good issue to crystallize a municipal election. It may be that, just like provincial Tory MPP John Snoblen once said, you need to create a crisis. Out of control budgets, duplicate services and a consultants study would be the right ingredients to create a troubling brew in the minds of taxpayers.

If not, it is so early in the process, the idea could be killed long before the fall without any harm to either’s political future.

It will be easy for both mayors to deny all of this. Amalgamation of the forces is a good idea. And its merits blow away any of the politics. It’s just silly it didn’t happen a long time ago. So maybe the motivation and timing really shouldn’t matter. And who really knows what sits in the hearts of these men.

The evidence is so overwhelming, though.

And, lucky us, we still have eight months to go before the election.

Hang on.

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