The past week has seen numerous media stories, social media articles and opinions surrounding the proposal floated at Council to have a costing by the OPP, for policing of the City of North Bay. My column a couple of weeks ago discussed some of the budget challenges that the OPP face and as taxpayers of the Province, we pay for directly through our provincial taxes.
While I understand the logic in the proposed motion and that being cost comparators/possible cost reductions, I do not follow the logic after that. In my experience as a former Chair of the North Bay Police Services Board, in contract negotiations, the cost of a first class OPP officer, has always been utilized as the highest comparator in the Province. Toronto and other major cities, follow in descending order and somewhere after that, the North Bay Police Service stands.
The disconnect for myself and some of my colleagues has been the question: how do you find cost savings when your replacements are paid at a higher rate? The answer is of course, you can not….unless you reduce services. The entire debate around this issue can be summarized by those facts. If we expect the same level of service, then expect the same costs or perhaps in this case, higher costs for the same service.
This leads to the next discussion and the point of this article. Reduction in services whether in policing or municipal services, is not a popular topic. Taxpayers have expectations as to levels of services and those are usually based on prior history. Any elected official at any level, in any municipality across this Province will tell you that it is not easy or popular to rescind a service level without resistance from those same taxpayers that elected them. As much as they may have campaigned on austerity and reductions in spending, take a service away and you find out quickly how unpopular, that issue or you, become.
As a community, perhaps we are looking at these issues in the wrong light. Many of the suggested savings at the municipal levels have been realized many years before. The so called low hanging fruit has been picked clean and service reductions are the only way to reduce costs in the future. That is where, we as a community, in my opinion, must change. We cannot expect to see reductions in municipal spending, without the corresponding reduction in service levels.
If we stopped looking for the “magic bullet” in spending and focused our efforts on growth with the target being “growing our way out” of these problems. If the service levels are right and the expectation is to maintain them, the revenue base must expand, or taxes will rise. In a year that a municipal election is soon to be underway, I hope that the focus will be on how do we grow our way to prosperity rather than cut our way to the bottom.
Peter Chirico is the President & CEO of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce