Rural homeowners crying foul over police-related property tax hikes
Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur. (Darren Brown/QMI Agency)
Irate rural homeowners are blaming soaring OPP salaries for massive hikes in their property taxes.
Paul Newby owns a cottage in Algonquin Highlands. He says policing costs for the municipality are going from $3.3 million a year to $8.5 million in 2015 — with no increase in service.
It’s an area that doesn’t have a strong commercial and industrial tax base to support policing — so homeowners are getting hit hard. It’s particularly tough for cottagers, who don’t use their second homes year-round and who now resent getting slammed with extra costs to pay for the cops’ pay hike.
Newby’s on a lake that has around 200 cottages and a few year-round houses. He estimates the population is 65% seasonal.
“There’s no one around in the winter — but they’re treated like a house that can be used all year,” he said.
“My taxes are $1,100 a year,” he told me.
“They’re going to go up $458 — 36% — in one year,” he said.
Part of the problem, Newby says, is the way the new OPP funding model is counting households. Previously seasonal residences weren’t included. Now they are, which he says is unfair because they’re not using police services year-round.
“If you look at municipal operating costs, they’ve only increased 4.9%, but the cost of emergency services have gone up 6.3%,” Newby said.
A 2012 report by the provincial auditor general noted that OPP expenditures have, “clearly increased at a much faster pace than inflation, even though crime rates and serious motor vehicle accidents are in a trend of long-term decline.”
The report noted also that OPP officers are among the highest paid in the country, with better benefits than other civil servants.
Janet Duffield has a year-round home on Kenissis Lake in Haliburton.
She says tax hikes in her area are anywhere between 20-36%.
“Right now, we’re paying $4,100 a year in taxes. They’re talking about an increase on average of anything from $300-$450 a year, based on property values,” she said.
It’s not a wealthy area and she doesn’t know how most homeowners will find the extra cash.
Tory critic Steve Clark says the Liberals have created a chaotic situation in rural municipalities.
Some municipalities have been told they’ll be getting more money to pay for cops, and are planning to spend the extra cash, while others are getting much bigger bills.
“There’s total chaos in the municipal sector when it comes to policing right now,” Clark told me.
A spokesman for Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said the new OPP billing model is nothing to do with the 8% pay hike — negotiated after the force had agreed to a two-year pay freeze. It’s in response to the auditor’s report criticizing the lack of transparency on funding for OPP. The report noted massive inequities in per household costs for policing between municipalities.
“Each municipality controls its own property taxation formula and is free to choose an alternative policing service,” said Seirge LeBlanc.
“It should be noted that the cost of OPP services compares very favourably to those of other municipal police services. Even after the recent OPP constable salary increase, the projected 2014 average per household cost for OPP policed municipalities is $365, compared to an average per household cost in 2012 of $784 for self-policed municipalities,” he said.
In 2011/2012, the auditor estimated staffing costs at 87% of the OPP expenditures. The new model may not be related to the hike — but you can’t say it hasn’t had a massive impact on tax bills.
Look, we all respect the work cops do for us, out on the road every day keeping us safe.
But there’s a tipping point. Right now, municipalities are being handcuffed by skyrocketing policing bills.