Lambton politicians question rising OPP costs

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Lambton municipalities are facing extra policing costs after the OPP ran a deficit of over $86,000 in 2021.

Another $126,000 deficit is expected in 2022.

And it has some politicians balking.

Over the past few months, the Lambton Group Police Services Board has been talking about the shortfalls it faces – first the cost of renting the St. Clair office for the OPP and later for COVID-19 cleaning expenses.

Two municipalities forwarded COVID-19 funding provided by the federal and provincial government to help with the costs. But municipalities are now receiving a second letter from the police board saying the cash didn’t eliminate the deficit and they’ll be on the hook for more money.

Murray Jackson, the chair of the local police board, in a letter to municipalities, says over the years, the board has found ways to fund not only the Corunna detachment through grants but has been able to buy extra equipment. “Historically, we have, when possible, provided surplus back to our member municipalities.” 

Jackson says between 2017 and 2021 municipalities shared between $32,000 and $45,000 which was returned to them from the OPP.

But he says there are fewer grants available to pay for the added office space and revenue sources – like police checks for people working with vulnerable people – also slowed to a crawl during the pandemic cutting revenue from about $70,000 to about $12,000 in 2021.

Jackson says the Corunna office is important for the OPPs operations. 

The Corunna detachment office, Jackson says, ensures people in all parts of the county get service within 20 minutes and helps ease pressure on the Petrolia detachment. Seventeen officers work out of the Corunna office; Jackson says if the board closed the office, there would be no room for them in Petrolia.

Jackson issued an invitation to the municipalities to talk about the issues in the hopes of putting together a joint pitch to try to find extra funding with the help of Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey – who is now the parliamentary assistant to the Solicitor General.

Warwick Township councillors want more information before they sit down to talk. And Councillor Wayne Morris isn’t ready to open the municipal coffers either. 

“I don’t think we should pay anymore – first of all, there are only two townships that paid (the initial request for COVID-19 funding); I’d like to see other townships get theirs in before we give any more money. And I want some justification.”

Warwick Treasurer Trevor Jarrett agreed saying the letter comes “without proper justification, other than here it (the deficit) is. Supporting documentation would be appreciated, at least from my standpoint.”

Warwick is asking the OPP for more information about where the deficit comes from before the meeting.

Petrolia councillors won’t join the meeting at all, even though Mayor Brad Loosley acknowledged “I think there’s some good discussions that need to take place with police service…as we have a contract already. And yes, we’re going to end up picking up that cost, whether we contribute (voluntarily) or not.”

 The municipality is expected to pay $15,238 more because of the policing deficit.

“They basically are asking for more money again,” said Councillor Ross O’Hara. “Is it just going to increase, increase, increase? I have a problem with it.”

 Councillor Grant Purdy questioned whether the OPP could apply for grants. Jackson, in his letter, said the OPP was not eligible for the pandemic grants municipalities received.

 Councillor Marty Souch said the town has to set and follow a budget and so should the OPP. Souch says the funding request the town received from the OPP “is what we based our budget on and that’s what we go on.”

 However, as Jackson pointed out, provincial legislation says without any additional provincial funding, municipalities will be forced to pay the bill.

It’s not clear when the meeting will be held and if other Central Lambton municipalities will agree to attend.

Here’s what municipalities will pay

• Petrolia $15,238

• Plympton-Wyoming $16,044

• St. Clair $17,515

• Enniskillen $5797

• Brooke-Alvinston $5,457

• Dawn-Euphemia $4,751

• Warwick Township $3532

• Oil Springs $1,298