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Northwestern Ontario communities get policing discounts from province, say more needed

A coalition of northwestern Ontario mayors say the province has agreed to help with their communities’ rising policing costs but more financial support is needed.

The mayors of Sioux Lookout, Kenora and Pickle Lake formed a coalition last year to ask the province for relief as escalating homelessness, drug addition and mental health issues drove up calls for police service in their communities.

The group said Tuesday that Solicitor General Michael Kerzner has offered new policing discounts for two of the three communities.

“The discounts are a step in the right direction, but much more is needed,” Kenora’s mayor, Andrew Poirier, wrote in a statement.

“We do, however, appreciate the time and energy Minister Kerzner has put into addressing our concerns.”

Municipalities are charged a base rate per household by the Ontario Provincial Police for policing services, plus further billing based on calls for service.

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The coalition has said policing costs in their communities are about three times higher than the approximately $320-per-household median cost for municipalities in Ontario.

Kenora is set to receive a 10 per cent discount on the price it pays for policing, on top of a five per cent existing discount, the group said.

Sioux Lookout – which is also a services hub for those living in several fly-in First Nation communities – is getting an additional five per cent discount, bringing the total discount it receives for policing costs to 40 per cent.

Pickle Lake’s current discount of 95 per cent remains in place.

The group said the discounts are not permanent.

“While the additional discounts are much lower than the municipalities had requested, the coalition leaders are hopeful that a pending review of the Community Safety and Policing Act will result in more significant financial relief in the future,” the coalition wrote in a statement.

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A spokesperson for Kerzner’s office said the government continues to work with communities “facing unique challenges in the northwest.”

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“The ministry is assessing policing costs in these municipalities. Should any agreement be reached, details would be released at the appropriate time,” Michael Harrison wrote in a statement.

The leaders of the three communities said calls for police service have been escalating since at least 2019 in their jurisdictions, creating a financial burden that they need help carrying.

Calls for service in Kenora were up to 20,000 per year for a population of 15,000 and about 7,800 households, Poirier has said.

“It’s almost three calls for service per household per year, which is way above the norm,” he said.

Doug Lawrance, the mayor of Sioux Lookout, said their communities are hub municipalities that provide “healthcare, pharmacy, education, commerce, legal, and transportation services for tens of thousands of people across the region.”

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“For many years, we have been trying to get the Solicitor General’s office to take the problem of policing costs in our municipalities more seriously,” he wrote. “We serve a population much larger than our municipal population.”

The coalition also said that although 2022 OPP data shows their three northwestern municipalities pay the highest policing cost, “there are over 30 municipalities across the north and other parts of the province that also have very high police costs compared to the provincial median.”

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“We know that we are not alone when it comes to concerns regarding the provincial cost formula for policing,” James Dalzell, the mayor of Pickle Lake, wrote.

The coalition has said they want to use the money they save from policing costs to tackle the root issues driving the high calls for service.

“That’s money for more infrastructure, community services, and limiting future tax increases,” it said on its website.

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