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Midland Chief questions projected OPP savings

Public meetings Aug. 23 aim to answer questions
Midland Police Service
Midland Police Service. Source: Facebook

Decision day is looming in Midland. 

On Sept. 6, council will vote to stay the course of more than 100 years with Midland Police or switch to the OPP. 

"It's a very important question for the town," said Midland Mayor Gord McKay. "The police budget is about 27 percent of our budget on an annual basis and therefore a very significant portion of our taxes go to supporting the police -  which is appropriate - and also leads you to the financial question as to is this the best approach given the cost."

Two special public meetings are slated for Aug. 23 where residents can voice questions and concerns.

The Mayor says 'dozens' of people have already called city hall with queries and Midland's Chief of Police Mike Osborne has been fielding daily calls too. 

"This is something that our council has to do to attempt to determine whether or not they're getting a good bang for their buck, so to speak," Osborne said. "I'm very respectful of that fact but we do have to answer a number of these very difficult questions that the community is telling me were not answered."

An outside consultant's report recently presented to council indicated there would be big savings of $8 million over ten years with the OPP but the mayor says with one-time costs it would be a net of about $5.5 million. 

"I guess the other way of looking at it is on an operating basis. If you put the one-time costs away, there's a differential of about $800,000 to $900,000 per year between the delivery of the OPP versus the delivery of the MPS services."

Chief Osborne has been crunching the numbers and says the estimated savings don't appear to add up.

"The difficulty has been understanding that suddenly the cost drops in year four without any change in personnel. I was just suggesting to council that they should be looking for some assurances that those numbers are accurate," he said.  "Based on the fact the largest portion of a police budget -  close to 90 percent - is wages and benefits, if you're intending to employ the same number of people, which is the intent from what I can see, then it's confusing as to why the numbers would suddenly drop, if everything else stayed the same."

Financial incentive is one part of the equation and service levels are the other. 

"Obviously if it's not a service you want it doesn't matter what it costs," said McKay. 

Osborne says council needs to nail down exactly what Midland residents will get with the OPP and what could cost extra such as a full-time community service officer and downtown foot patrols. 

The Chief wrote an open letter to residents and council, listing concerns he hopes will be addressed at the Aug. 23 meetings.

Osborne has served with Midland Police for about 26 years and says the debate is not without personal nostalgia. 

"I'm very proud of the work the women and men that work here do.  They do a great job and I think that's important but from my standpoint that's not what this discussion is about. This discussion is about what's best for the community and the only way of determining what's best for our community is to answer all their questions."

The Mayor is keeping his opinion to himself saying it's up to the people of Midland to decide. 

"it will be a practical decision," McKay said. "I don't want to dismiss people that have an attachment to the Midland Police Service because it has been in town for over 100 years.  Of course we all like to reflect upon the past but both council and the people of Midland I think understand things are changing around us.  We don't police in the way that we used to and a good example is what's happening with cyber crime and online bullying and such and these are situations that we did not see even back ten years ago."

The public information sessions on Aug. 23 are being held at the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.