The District of Muskoka Councillors are faced with a difficult decision in the method they use to distribute police costs to the individual Municipalities. Traditionally, the OPP only provided a total number for the district and, in the absence of local municipality-by-municipality data, the police costs were added to the general tax levy and allocated on the weighted assessed property tax base. This year, however, the OPP have provided exact data on the cost of policing in each community. Now for the moral dilemma – do the Councillors vote to continue to add the total to the tax base or do they distribute the actual costs? It would seem like a “no brainer”. How can you in good moral conscience charge somebody more than you know it actually costs?
However, that has not been the reaction of some Councillors to date. On Monday evening, April 20, at district council, a motion to postpone passing the tax by-law so that this dilemma could be discussed at the Corporate & Emergency Services Committee (CES) [the Committee of the Mayors] passed with a majority, but not with unanimity. This item was then discussed at length at the CES Meeting on Thursday, April 23. A motion was tabled to distribute the costs based upon the actuals and, in a recorded vote it was defeated (all of the Towns plus Chair Klinck against with all of the Townships for the motion).
The Mayor of Gravenhurst stated that they could not afford it and asked: “ how do you expect me to go back to my taxpayers and ask them for an additional $647,131”. Of course the counter question is how do you expect the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes to go back to his community and ask for an additional $2,335,602 and to continue overpaying for police services as they have been for over ten years – they also cannot afford it.
The Mayor of Bracebridge believed there to be too many complex issues to be decided at this table and wanted to take the matter to a sub-committee for further discussion; which, in essence, takes it off the table until the 2016 Budget. The logical counter to this comment is that it is not a complex issue: how can you charge more than services actually cost? The Mayor of Huntsville discussed the formation of the District of Muskoka in 1971 and believed that one of its purposes was to spread the high costs being experienced in the Towns over a broader base; i.e. get the rural areas to support the Towns. I might suggest that I have trouble believing this was the purpose of the Muskoka Act. Finally, Chair Klinck, as a waterfront property owner, fully supported the motion but then put on his district hat and said he would not support the motion.
Why is this decision so important? The differences in the distribution method are very large. For example, for the Township of Lake of Bays (LOB), the cost of policing for 2015 will be $952, 557. However, if LOB must pay on the property tax assessment base, this cost goes up to $1,414,034 and increase of $461,477. This discrepancy gets even more significant for Muskoka Lakes. Their actual cost for 2015 will be $2,129,992 whereas their allocated cost would be $4,465,595, an increase of $2,335,602.
To put it another way to try to understand how this happens, under the assessment allocation method, the charge for policing in Lake of Bays is $1,414,034 and the cost for Bracebridge is $1,496,614 or just $82,580 higher. This is patently ridiculous! The allocation methodology is forcing the Townships to significantly cover the cost of policing in the Towns – and, I submit, that was never the intent of the Muskoka Act in forming the district!
What is the complicating factor? As always in the political sphere, nothing is ever totally straightforward. The Municipal Act stipulates that all taxes must be raised on the weighted assessed property tax base. However, for a special service (e.g. sewer and water, and others), these costs can be separated for each Municipality. There have been two legal opinions sought which both agree that if Policing is considered a special service, then it can be distributed separately. However, one of the opinions delved into this question deeply and stated that in their opinion it was a special service, whereas the other just assumed it was not a special service but rather common across all of the district. This, of course, raises the conundrum – which opinion do you believe and accept? The reality, of course, is that they are, as they state, opinions, and there is no way of knowing which would be accepted in a court of law. Common sense, on the other hand, quite clearly knows that the level of police services is quite different in a town and in a rural community – yes the rural communities have access to all services but they are not needed.
So, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, this motion to charge out the actual known costs of policing individually to each Municipality will be back on the agenda and a decision must be made. There is little new information to table. The three township Mayors did offer at the CES meeting that they would be willing to see a three-year phase-in of the additional costs to the towns but this was rejected out-of-hand.
The fate of this motion hangs on the Councillors from the towns. On a strictly numerical basis, the towns can outvote the townships because Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay have one less Councillor each (yet another discriminatory historical hangover). Therefore every Councillor must decide whether or not it is morally acceptable to charge the townships $3,057,495 more for the cost of policing than the known actual costs. It is as simple as this!
2015 OPP Cost of Service for Policing in District of Muskoka
|Municipality||Known Costs||Assessed Costs||Assessed Over Known|
|Lake of Bays||$952,557||$1,414,034||+$461,477|
Robert J (Bob) Young,
Mayor Township of Lake of Bays