City councillors in Dryden now have six months to once again decide to amalgamate the Dryden Police Service with the OPP, or to leave them as a stand-alone municipal police force. Councillors first began looking into the roughly $6 million option four years ago in May of 2017.

Dryden held a Special Council meeting virtually on May 17 to listen to the OPP’s new costing proposal. The presentation included the OPP’s Municipal Policing Specialists Sergeant Katherine Ross and Sergeant Kelly Withrow, Dryden OPP Commander Ed Chwastyk and Acting Superintendent and Director of Operations in the North West Region, Chuck Wesley.

Councillors in DrydenCouncillors and members of the OPP met virtually on May 17. 

“Although the OPP is large, the members that serve Dryden would continue to provide policing services that cater to the people and the needs of your community,” said Ross.

Ross began the presentation highlighting a few of the OPP’s unique benefits, such as their provincial staffing and recruitment efforts, a regional headquarters based in Thunder Bay, and if an officer is found negligent in their duties, the OPP would be liable for any damages or legal costs, opposed to a municipal police force where a lawsuit could target the municipality itself.

As well, Ross says their Integrated Service Delivery Model, which allows officer to police in one or more nearby communities in a single shift, leads to additional response flexibility, the sharing of information, cost savings, and police would work alongside OPP officers across the region.

“This allows us to flex to meet fluctuating demands at a lower cost, as we police large areas and many municipalities,” explained Ross, noting officers from multiple communities could be tasked to respond to a large incident.

Former Armed Forces member, 10-year veteran of the Dryden OPP and Commander of the Dryden OPP, Ed Chwastyk, agreed the model would lead to an increased police presence in the City of Dryden as well as Machin, Ignace and the surrounding areas.

“I must emphasize the outstanding working relationship currently enjoyed between the OPP and Dryden Police Service,” said Chwastyk, who notes the OPP currently police the areas both east and west of Highway 673, but the DPS covers the area within city limits.

“We certainly appreciate the professional and personal relationships with all members of the Dryden Police Service that have developed over the years. Regardless of the outcome of this process, I know that the OPP and DPS will continue to maintain a strong and positive relationship.”

Overall, the OPP’s proposal says they’d provide four platoons of uniform officers which include eight constables and one sergeant for Dryden. In Ignace, there would be nine dedicated constables and one sergeant.

They would also employ four administration clerks, a crime unit, a support supervisor, operations supervisor, court officers, and a full-time community safety officer to provide education and community programming in the region.

The OPP’s proposed amalgamation process, providing officers with the Dryden Police Service were to apply and receive positions, would eliminate the Chief of Police and Inspector positions and lay-off two data entry staff, but would hire an additional clerk, a court administration worker and seven additional uniform constables.

Councillors noted there are three additional officers included in 2021’s proposal compared to 2019’s, but Chwastyk explained two of those positions could be filled by the Chief of Police and Inspector with one new constable, or three new constables if they do not receive a new rank.

When Councillor Shayne MacKinnon asked if the Dryden OPP detachment had any current openings or officers on extended leaves of absences, Chwastyk says they are working to address staff shortages – something the OPP is seeing across the province after a number of retirements, but additional recruits are on their way.

While there’s space in the detachment, the OPP says the building off of Highway 17 does not have sufficient space to accommodate everyone and needs extensive interior and exterior upgrades. Chwastyk notes it also has water supply issues they’re working to address.

As it stands, the Dryden Police Service’s detachment on King Street is still not suitable as it does not pass the OPP’s risk assessment, as it’s located to close to the CP Rail tracks, which carry hazardous materials, and additional space at the Dryden Courthouse is being considered.

All said and done, the OPP’s proposal is listed at about $6 million but costs are estimated to be well over that with additional costs. The proposal is broken down as:

$3,929,131 for uniform members’ salary and benefits,
$506,476 for civilian staff members’ salary and benefits,
$456,326 for support staff members’ salary and benefits,
$468,805 in yearly operating expenses,
$710,775 in one-time transitional costs,
- $55,325 in year-one adjustments and savings,
= $6,016,188

However, that doesn’t include $300,000 to $400,000 in upgrades to the Dryden OPP detachment, additional equipment upgrade costs, the costs of record storage, severance costs, pensions, the cost of maintaining a police board, or the disposal of outdated assets.

Dryden’s original OPP study estimated severance costs of anywhere from $900,000 to $4.2 million, depending on employee recruitment and retention following amalgamation.

The OPP’s costs could also rise by an additional $500,000 roughly, as the Dryden Police Service’s Chief of Police Doug Palson and Inspector Ann Tkachyk are both subject to the OPP’s rank evaluation process.

Their current ranks don’t exist in the OPP’s structure, meaning they’d be reassigned to another rank if offered a position by the OPP. If so, the OPP say those officers could bring their listed costs from $5.9 million to about $6.4 million, which doesn’t include the costs listed above.

Councillor Shayne MacKinnon notes provincially, the OPP recently received 1.85 percent in yearly salary increases for uniform members and 1 percent increases for civilian staff through their Collective Bargaining Agreement with Ontario.  

The City of Dryden’s decision now must be made by November 17, 2021. You can watch May 17’s full presentation HERE.

If accepted, the City of Dryden would enter into a three or more-year transitional contract with the OPP as they collect data on crime rates and calls for service in the area, before entering into the provincially mandated OPP billing model – aimed to recover costs for municipalities. They say 327 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities operate on a cost-recovery basis.

Chief Administrative Officer Roger Nesbitt notes MNP LLP is continuing their study into the two policing services, which is expected to cost about $35,000. They were the same firm that completed Dryden’s first OPP study in 2019.

Nesbitt notes their study is expected to be presented to the public by June 7, there will be a public consultation period and a survey beginning June 8, with a virtual public meeting to be held by June 24. Council will present their report by July 12, and all dates are tentative at this point.

It took 17 months for Dryden’s councillors to vote to revisit the OPP Costing issue. The Municipal Act states councillors aren’t able to revisit a voted down motion for at least 12 months.

When councillors voted down the OPP’s original offer 6-1 in May of 2019, they said while the OPP’s model projected an estimated $1 million in savings by year 5, or about 2025, the roughly $4.5 million in transitional, upfront costs would have been too difficult to accommodate, on top of a roughly $700,000 higher base cost compared to the DPS.

The city’s original OPP Costing Committee – with members of council, the police services board and the community – also recommended against the OPP, saying they were concerned impacts to the community, loss of control and governance and the loss of a dedicated community services officer.

Mayor Greg Wilson was the single council member who voted to accept the original proposal two years ago. In his comments after the meeting, he did foreshadow the second costing process.

“I don’t think that we’ve seen the last of this. It’s always going to be on our radar, if it’s something that’s going to deliver that kind of savings. It’s just bad timing right now,” said Wilson in May, 2019.

After voting against the move, councillor Norm Bush also said Dryden should re-explore the option in 2021 as the city planned for $1.1 million in lowered debt repayments and more financial freedom as a result, which has panned out well for councillors and Treasurer Steven-Lansdell Roll.

Councillors approved their 2021 Capital and Operating budgets without any reductions in service or tax increases in December, 2020, with only a small $87,000 deficit covered through reserve funds. This comes after finishing off 2020’s budget season with a surplus of about $950,000.

Although, the city is still on the hook for roughly $10 million in debt related to the sale of DMTS last decade, after paying off $3.4 million of their $13.4 million in overall debt last year, comprised of $11 million in debt with interest and extra charges.

Councillor Shayne MacKinnon, a former police chief, was the lone council member to vote against the Mayor’s motion to re-engage in talks with the OPP and the province to go through a second OPP Costing process in October of 2020.

He suggested the second costing process was ‘retribution’ after an arbitration award favoured Dryden’s police union, opposed to the city, last summer. Provincial mediators had to help the two parties, the Dryden Police Services Board and the Dryden Police Association, to come to an agreement.

Mayor Wilson and his motion argued Dryden is the only northwestern Ontario community with its own police force, east of Thunder Bay, policing costs in Dryden have risen by 4 percent year over year and they represent about a quarter of the city’s overall budget.