Councillors with the City of Dryden are continuing to weigh the potential pros and cons of replacing the Dryden Police Service with the OPP. A study into the OPP’s Costing Proposal was presented to councillors and the public tonight, drawing a number of mixed reactions from the community.

While many shared concerns regarding the city’s current and future financial situation, other concerns were raised regarding the validity of some of the study’s findings, as well as police service levels and additional services that could be provided.

The study noted that the OPP would offer more uniformed officers in total, as well as an additional officer on patrol at any given time. However, the DPS polices within the City of Dryden, where the OPP officers would serve their catchment area.

If the amalgamation is approved, the community would also have to share their Community Safety Officer – a position currently occupied by Constable Denise Szachury with the DPS. The OPP’s CSO position would service all communities in the Dryden region, not specifically the City of Dryden. The city would have to create and pay an extra position to facilitate current CSO service levels.

The OPP would offer an Incident Command Centre, which the DPS does not. However, the DPS currently provides a by-law officer, crossing guards and mental health transport, which the OPP does not offer. The DPS is also currently mandated to respond to all ambulance calls within city limits, something that is only required of OPP officers if the situation requires it.

The OPP’s proposal lists an estimated policing cost for the City of Dryden at $4,754,600 for the first year of the three year transitional contract, before the city transitions into the OPP’s billing model. This figure does not include the estimated first-year investment, equipment and capital costs of $968,066 – for a grand total of $5,722,666 in the first year.

The Dryden Police Service's budget represents 18 per cent of Dryden's budget, or $4 million, a number that has remained stable over the years.

In Kenora, the city was paying $6.7 million for police services under the Kenora Police Service in 2011 – the year that the service was disbanded in favour of the OPP. The city paid the OPP $5.7 million for policing in 2018, and are expecting a $6.1 million budget in 2019.

However, following the disbandment of the KPS, the city was on the hook for $2.5 million in severance pay-outs and legal fees. Dryden’s OPP study estimated severance costs of anywhere from $900,000 to $4.2 million, depending on employee recruitment and retention following amalgamation.

Municipalities that went through with amalgamation cited that they were saving roughly $1 million per year, however, these were estimations, and no specific communities were cited. Those that did not complete the transition cited the potential for unknown, rising costs in the future, as well as large up-front costs.

2019 Policing Per Property Costs in similar sized municipalities:

- Dryden - $673
- Kenora - $786
- Sioux Lookout - $660
- Fort Frances - $624

Ann Tkachyk, a 28-year veteran of the DPS and President of the Senior Officer’s Police Association, offered her thoughts on the potential amalgamation.

“The Dryden Police Service is not a police service in trouble. We’re not in financial trouble. We rarely see complaints. We’re nationally-recognized for community service. We have a Community Safety Officer that works full-time in this community, as well as officers who donate their time to provide that service to the community. There will be people that lose their jobs.”

Tkachyk also shared concerns with the OPP’s potentially-rising costs in the future, citing that the city is still trying to claw their way out of a precarious debt position that isn’t expected to improve until 2021. While the OPP will guarantee their costs in the initial three years, they cannot guarantee any amount past the initial, transitional contract.

“We have councillors who ran on the platform that debt reduction would be their first priority. This council is considering putting the community back in debt to disband a police service that’s not in trouble. Where’s this money going to come from? Do they have $3 million sitting somewhere?” asked Tkachyk.

As of December 31, 2017, the city had listed their long-term debt at $17 million, but debt servicing charges have brought that to $20.1 million. The city paid off 3.7 million, or just over 13 per cent, of their debt in 2018. By 2020, the city expects that two-thirds of their debt will be paid off. 

Councillor Shayne MacKinnon, who has over 30 years of experience in policing as a former officer and a former police chief, disagreed with a number of items listed in the study, saying that some of the numbers are skewed.

“Those numbers, in my mind, are not accurate at all. I believe that the numbers in this report are skewed and flawed. But, whoever polices Dryden next year, officers with the OPP or officers with the DPS would lay down their lives for this community.”

MacKinnon claimed that the study also used numbers that would require the DPS to hire additional staff – potentially inflating some estimations. Tkachyk agreed with MacKinnon’s estimation.

“That brings our costs up, and the OPP’s costs down. That’s not reality, and that’s not fair. Those numbers were based on estimated calls for service, not on projected numbers by the police service,” Tkachyk added, noting that any Dryden police associations were not asked to provide information towards the study.

MacKinnon noted that provincially, the OPP is having issues hiring enough staff – an issue that police services across the country are facing. Despite this, the DPS currently employs has a full staff.

Municipalities who recently completed the OPP amalgamation saw that only 75 per cent of civilian staff and 65 per cent of uniformed staff were offered jobs with the OPP. Only 69 per cent of all staff were interested in pursuing an OPP position.

While MacKinnon had his reservations on the study, councillors Norm Bush, Martin MacKinnon and John Carlucci were thankful to now have more information on the potential amalgamation costs and process.

“I’m fairly confident in the financials. They’ve really gone through the ringer. With the study, now we know that we’re facing roughly $1 million in up-front costs. We’re ahead of where we were before the study,” said councillor Norm Bush.

“There’s still a vast amount of knowledge to capture here. You can read this thing and learn something new every time. We’re going to work and make the right decision,” said councillor Martin MacKinnon.

“We have wonderful people here. Thank you all for your services, whether you’re with the OPP or the DPS. You do an outstanding job, and I look forward to working with all of you in the future. Thank you very much,” said councillor and deputy mayor John Carlucci, at the conclusion of the meeting.

The public will have their chance to offer opinions and pose questions later this month. A second meeting to gather community feedback will take place at The Centre on March 21, with representation from council, the DPS and the Dryden OPP.

The OPP’s proposal was presented to the community in November. If council accepts their proposal, the OPP and the Dryden Police Service would amalgamate. A decision must be made by the end of June, or the offer will be terminated. If accepted, the OPP would begin policing in February, 2020.

The decision to pursue an OPP Costing Proposal was made in June of 2017, following a unanimous decision by city council. A Police Costing Committee – consisting of councillors, city staff, a member of the public, a member of the police services board and the Chief of Police, Doug Palson, has been meeting monthly since September of 2017.

MNP LLP completed the feasibility study into the potential amalgamation, projecting a 15-year forecast of the costs and service levels of both police services. MNP LLP’s feasibility study came at a $45,000 cost to the city.

The study can be found HERE.

For more information:
OPP details policing proposal
OPP Costing study completed

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