Do your homework
|By Bram Lebo - Publisher | April 3, 2014
Rarely are our councils as speedy and resourceful as they’ve been these last few weeks when it comes to trying to stop proposed changes to the OPP billing model. Those changes would increase our policing costs from $3.5 million per year to over $8 million per year, necessitating tax increases as high as almost 40 per cent. Essentially, the new model would have each municipality contributing to the OPP’s provincial overhead based on its number of households –permanent and seasonal – naturally without any input into how that overhead is spent.
County councillor and Minden Hills reeve Barb Reid, along with county treasurer Laura Janke, gave a full explanation of the proposed changes last Monday on Canoe FM. You can watch excerpts from their interview on our website.
Reid and Janke clearly explained why the change was being proposed, why it doesn’t work for Haliburton County, and what our councils intend to do about it. They also helpfully explained our councils’ lack of participation in various consultations regarding the OPP billing model: they had no indication the changes under consideration would be so severe until after the consultations took place. That could be a lesson in showing up or, given the recent mud-rucking about conference expenses earlier in the year, perhaps the councillors could be forgiven for shying away from what, for all they knew, was yet another provincial boondoggle.
What Reid and Janke could not explain however were the costs of alternative models. There are essentially two: creating a detachment of an existing police force, for example Kawartha Lakes; or creating our own police force. Both may be worth looking at not just for cost reasons, but because with either we would be able to direct policing towards our priorities instead of having to abide by those of the OPP and the province.
Reid said both of those options would be expensive, which may or may not imply prohibitively expensive. There would be a lot of costs, she added – buildings and cars and salaries. Various people have asked various other people and have been told it’s expensive, so it must be true. But how is it possible to know something is expensive before you’ve actually taken the time to cost it out? It’s not, of course, but perhaps to dissuade us from even considering such an exercise, Reid added that it would cost $80,000 to hire a consultant to write a business case and find out.
That’s nonsense. A business case is no more than an imaginary budget. All the information we need for a business case, the costs of buildings and cars and salaries and uniforms, all of it is readily available public information.
Surely among the five treasurers and five CAOs employed in the county there must be one with the skills and time to write a business case. Yet for some reason, amid all the scrambling and bluster, a business case is not on our councillors’ agenda. Any expert in negotiation will tell you to have a clear understanding of your alternatives before making demands. We know the proposed OPP billing model will cost $8 million, but all we know about the alternatives is that they would be “expensive” because somebody told us so.
Maybe that somebody is correct. Maybe they're wrong. Aren’t our councillors at least curious?
This failure to do their homework is just the latest example of our councils making decisions based on notions and opinions rather than facts. We’re making housing policies for the next 50 years based on flawed surveys, regulations based not necessarily on what the law says but what the municipality next door is doing or because somebody heard this or that. Instead of evaluating risks on a cost-benefit basis, we tend to avoid any risk – and therefore much potential progress.
We have over 200 municipal employees in the county and 24 councillors. Somewhere among all those people there have to be the skills and motivation to evaluate options, make plans and get things done. There has to be the will find out what we need to know in order to make the right decisions, or we’ll be stuck forever in reaction mode, lurching from crisis to crisis.
If there isn’t that motivation, if there aren’t those skills in our municipalities, county and councils, we whose future depends on intelligent, deliberate stewardship of our communities and economy can’t afford it. Not another four years. Not another four months. No amount of effort can compensate for a lack of accuracy. For crying out loud: open a spreadsheet, get some information, and figure it out.
BRAM LEBO is the publisher of The Highlander and prefers Dysart to his hometown of North York. In the spare time he doesn’t really have,he enjoys reading, fishing, DIY projects, and cooking big batches of stuff. Talk to him about politics, architecture and design, fishing, his nieces and nephews, and his worrisome love for his coffee machine.