Story and photos by John Moodie
Belleville city council voted 7-2 Monday to put off an Ontario Provincial Police costing giving Belleville’s municipal police time to reduce operating costs.
“We can do our due diligence and do our homework, before we make substantial decisions,” said Councillor Jack Miller at the meeting.
Miller said he firmly believes Belleville’s police service is the city best option and that the OPP should be brought in as a last resort. Councillor Miller felt that if the Belleville Police are having difficulty coming in on budget that they should be given the opportunity to fix it.
This began in March when Belleville’s police service board recommended a 5.5 per cent budget increase to the Belleville police budget.
In April, Belleville city council narrowly approved the police budget. This prompted Councillor Jackie Denyes to make a motion to seek information about the OPP costing process.
Councillor Taso Christopher said he’s opposed to putting off an OPP costing any longer.
“All you can do as an elected official is be objective, look at all the options. You have got to look at the bigger picture, you’ve got to look at the municipality and where it is going,” said Christopher.
Councillor Jackie Denyes also favoured going forward with an OPP costing.
Denyes said council must consider all the facts and it, “must not make a decision based on rumours, fear mongering or media rhetoric.”
“We as elected officials are tasked with due diligence and we owe it to our citizens to provide options,” said Denyes.
OPP Sargent Paul Legault was invited by Belleville city council to make a presentation on the costing process. In his presentation, Legualt said the OPP needed the approval of council to proceed with the costing process.
“Belleville city council needs to formally request the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services have the OPP prepare a costing,” said Legault.
After the request has been made the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has two months to respond.
Legault said the costing process could take up to four months to carry out once the ministry has given its approval.
The proposal is then presented to council. At that point city council would be obligated to consult the public. Council has six months to respond to the OPP’s proposal.
Belleville Police Chief Cory McMullan told council this process could take 12 to 18 months.
McMullan said most of the costing in Ontario has been in small rural communities challenged with providing service in light of rising costs.
This motion came as a surprise to McMullan.
McMullan expressed concern over local job loss if the OPP were to take over policing of Belleville.
Legault said the OPP would start by offering positions to Belleville officer’s before going elsewhere.
“All officers that the Belleville police have in the system will be in our costing. It’s not like we are going to cut positions to say that it is cheaper. We will identify the administration jobs we don’t need,” said Legault.
“What the Sargent said was that all sworn members of police officers would be offered the opportunity to apply. He didn’t say they would all be hired,” said McMullan.
McMullan also said Belleville residents would lose jobs if police dispatching were to be moved to the OPP’s Eastern dispatching centre in Smith Falls.
Councillor Edgerton Boyce questioned if a municipality has ever gone back to local policing after turning to the OPP.
“Once you go to the OPP it is fiscally impossible to go back due to capital start up costs,” said McMullan.