Leaders of three northwestern Ontario communities say the OPP’s billing model is unfair to residents across the region, as the millions of dollars in extra fees we pay could have been better spent on protecting roads, infrastructure and on projects that benefit the community.
The City of Kenora, the Municipality of Sioux Lookout and the Municipality of Pickle Lake remain three of the six communities in Ontario where residents pay over $600 per household in taxes related to the cost of policing, and have formed a coalition to lobby the province for help.
Kenora taxpayers paid an average of $832 per household in 2021, while taxpayers paid $934 in Sioux Lookout and as high as $950 in Pickle Lake. Across the province, the average property owner pays about $300 per year for policing services.
Since 2015, the three municipalities estimate that they’ve paid out over $30 million more than they should have for day-to-day OPP services, for about $4 million per year.
“We pay twice,” explains Kenora Mayor Dan Reynard. “First, we pay the highest cost of local policing in Ontario, then we pay again in lost opportunities to invest in our communities. The tax dollars of our residents and businesses don’t go nearly as far as they could.”
Reynard adds that Kenora has mostly gravel roads, and in times of severe flooding like the area has been dealing with lately, the roads drain poorly and compound the effects of heavy winter run-offs and rising water levels in local lakes. An evacuation notice for hundreds of residents remains in effect two weeks later in the Kenora area, due to the flooding washing away local roadways.
“One out of every four municipal tax dollars goes out of the community to pay for OPP policing services,” adds Reynard. “That’s not fair. It’s not equitable, and we owe it to our taxpayers to fix this.”
“While deteriorating roads are most visible, it is water and sewer infrastructure that needs our attention, and quickly,” says Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance. “Day-to-day it’s working fine, but we need to replace outdated infrastructure. Our taxpayers rightly expect us to address problems like these before they become serious issues, but our extraordinarily high cost of policing makes these investments difficult.”
Councillors have repeatedly spoke about the need to reduce their policing costs over the last six to seven years, noting the OPP’s billing model isn’t fair to smaller, rural and northern municipalities.
Mayor Reynard has previously explained that the OPP’s model is based on a cost per property formula, but emergency responders in the Kenora district regularly serve a population that’s much larger than the size of the area’s tax-base, such as residents in unorganized and outlying areas. That means the OPP regularly charges the city extra for those calls for service.
Overall, the Kenora OPP’s costs in 2022 round out to be about $6.74 million, an increase of about $280,000 compared to 2021’s costs, which ended up being about $6.47 million. Costs have increased in Kenora by roughly $750,000 since 2020.
While Pickle Lake and Sioux Lookout are the only communities in Ontario to receive discounts from the province to help pay their policing bill, those discounts aren’t guaranteed to last and the City of Kenora has previously been denied the additional assistance. It could have saved taxpayers about $2 million per year in 2021.
Deputy Mayor of Pickle Lake, Kayla Blakney, notes that Pickle Lake is at the end of Ontario’s most northern permanent roadway and is at the beginning of a winter ice road network for thousands of residents who live in the far north.
“Any increase in policing costs sends a ripple of financial disruption through our municipality,” says
“Infrastructure investments are not easy to put off, as most of them are unseen. But that is not sustainable. As responsible elected officials, we have an obligation to make this right.”
Deputy Mayor Blakney is stepping in for Mayor Dwight Monck as he campaigns for the Progressive Conservatives in the provincial election.