Police budgets a test for municipal councils

Brace yourself over the next few months, as municipal politicians begin the annual moaning and binging about budgets as frustrated and angry taxpayers take stock of the new councils recently elected in November.
Like a well-choreographed dance, councils will receive the first blush of departmental budgets and wish lists within the upcoming weeks. These will cause immense consternation, as unacceptably high figures will be thrown around. As property owners and businesses get ready to blow their collective stacks, various budget chiefs and bureaucrats will retreat as a nip ‘n tuck takes place. Then, it is a little off the road salt expenses here, an increase to user fees over there and voila, a reasonable budget for all.
But, this year may not be so easy. Cobourg Deputy Mayor Stan Frost was grousing last week to the new council about the hardship he faces as he tries to hit the two per cent target he promised taxpayers. He warned councillors to be prepared for the upcoming suffering by saying it will be “quiet an effort”.
Hamilton Township council wasted no time in making its intentions known as OPP Detachment Commander Inspector Doug Borton got roasted last week when councillors wanted to know why certain cost-savings were not being translated into the upcoming budget.

With two former police officers now sitting on council, the wiggle room disappeared quickly as Borton explained why a new system meant to save time, travel costs and vehicle expenses was not showing up on the bottom line. If this debate was any indication of the upcoming tenor of future discussions, look out.

Port Hope has yet to make much public, but already people on the street are warming up. Various blogs and discussion lists have started howling about costs and taxes. Wish lists are starting to be filed by contributors with priorities and a growing lists of cuts.

Still, policing budgets provide a unique insight. Newly appointed Cobourg Councillor John Henderson raised the ancient spectre of a west Northumberland police force. Gushing hope and optimism, the former police board chair, mused about the benefits. Joining him was Cobourg Councillor Forrest Rowden, who supported a regionalized police force when he sat on Hamilton Township council.

Yet, policing costs per person in 2008 were $295 in Cobourg, $288 in Port Hope and $245 in Hamilton Township. Last year, these shot up to $266 in Hamilton and $318 in Port Hope. On top of this, Port Hope is looking at building a new police station at an estimated cost of $2.5 million, not including land and furnishings. The OPP contract for Hamilton Township is up for renewal.

The new councils will be put to an early test. The bottom line will be how much influence will the new members have over the old stalwarts. Public outrage may be the force upsetting the balance in favour of new ideas and new approaches. If fledgling politicians can leverage taxpayer’s discontent then Henderson may get his regional police force, while property owners and businesses get the relief they seek.

Policing will be the litmus test. It will be interesting to see if the old battle lines can be obliterated and some fresh steps replace the stale debates and tired budget dance of days gone by.

3 thoughts on “Police budgets a test for municipal councils

  1. Being an amalgamationist is not so bad – in fact it is the only way to be efficient. It’s just how large the amalgamated units should be that is the argument. In Australia, I have read that the compromise between hyperlocal, that costs us money and bloated, which also costs us money is about 110,000 – 95,000 per municipality.

    So how does one retain local identity without costing an arm and a leg? I would suggest that people want two things – a sense of local identity and low costing services. These things are not tied together. A municipal police service does not give a sense of local identity the community does. Is Hamilton Twp any less of a community because it has the OPP. The policing debate is about other issues not just local identity. As Deb says do the people in Bowmanville lose their identity because they are in the region of Durham. And if you live in Shiloh, Dundonald or Codrington do you really care who picks up your garbage.

    The point is that if you want efficiency and local identity one has to consolidate services at the next level – County, designa system of local representation in the wards and allow community councils to have some planning power – local variances and severances guided by a comprehensive County Official Plan

    Just my two cents worth
    ben burd

  2. While Wilf may be joking when he suggests getting rid of lower tier municipalities altogether, that doesn’t mean real reform couldn’t be beneficial. We just need to reach agreement on what a new system of government would look like for Northumberland.

    I’d like to see us able to vote for the Warden directly, and for that term of office to last two years. Other regions do it so it’s not impossible. And I would like the Warden to take a real leadership role and not abdicate that responsibility to staff. We didn’t elect these administrators, and it’s not their job to lead.

    If we think about running a regional government, how about 2 reps. each for all 7 municipalities when we eliminate the lower tier. The tricky part is ensuring the towns and villages maintain their unique identities, which certainly appears to be the case in Clarington. Bowmanville is still Bowmanville last time I looked, and Newcastle is still there as well. Perhaps citizens’ advisory panels could be set up for each locality to make recommendations to the Council.

    The time for little city/town states is over. I’m not even talking about costs, just the fact that the world has moved on from what it was in pioneer days, and we need to move with it.

  3. Why limit yourself to the police services, Robert?

    Look at the money we could all save if we abolished the seven local municipalities, and let the County run everything. Sell the seven town halls. Lay off the municipal administrators. Scrap the 38 local councillors. Seven county councillors would be far cheaper: one from each ward (that is, the seven former towns and municipalities). No local control, no opposition, no debate, no local democracy as we know it today, but it would save money.

    No, I’m not serious. But before you call “local control” a tired, stale idea, you might consider that Port Hope voters have consistently said we want to keep our local police service. In Toronto, if a person is “known to the police” it means he or she is a bad egg. In Port Hope, the police know almost everyone, we know our police, and “known to the police” is what we all expect to be.

    There’s a reason we have a Port Hope municipality, a Port Hope council, and a Port Hope police service. It’s because we love our town.

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