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"Timms" defend the taxpayer at OCCOPS reserve fund idea gains steam at AMO

19 Aug 2014

Police war chest plan pitched at conference

By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

Municipalities across Ontario need to create war chests to fund legal battles against police associations over budget requests, say Niagara Region politicians who worked the room at Tuesday’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference.

As politicians flocked to a seminar on police costs — so popular the conference ran two back-to-back — Selina Volpatti discreetly passed out flyers announcing a post-conference huddle to discuss the benefits of arming themselves with ready-to-use cash.

Every municipality should have its own war chest of reserve funds to be used if necessary for a legal battle with their police association, said Volpatti, who invited politicians to a meeting at the hotel room of her colleague Bruce Timms.

This month, Timms proposed Niagara council set aside $200,000 a year in a fund to help the municipality stand its ground against Niagara Regional police budgets. The vote was deferred until next month.

Volpatti and Timms were promoting the plan to their peers at the conference at the London Convention Centre attended by representatives of Ontario’s 444 municipal governments.

“Politicians are somewhat to blame for the runaway costs because we’re not willing to stand up and defend the taxpayer against some of these arbitration rulings,” said Timms after a seminar on policing costs.

“What we are trying to do is set up a reserve fund so we are prepared to defend ourselves when the board appeals our decision.”

Otherwise, the municipality ends up paying its own lawyers and the police board lawyers if the association appeals a budget decision. “So we are spending money to save money,” Timms said.

Police salaries have been rapidly increasing across Ontario, largely due to a benchmarking system by police associations in which a lucrative deal in one place becomes the basis for other boards to match. If boards balk, terms of the precedent agreement often are imposed by arbitrators.

Opposition critics as well as police board members across Ontario have long said the province needs to change the arbitration system because it ignores a municipality’s ability to pay

A made-in-London plan to attack the system by having police service boards agree to form a united front and prevent precedent-setting contracts is off to a shaky start because already two boards who’d agreed to it have jumped ship and signed lucrative deals.

Paul Paolatto, budget chief of London’s police services board, called the Niagara plan an “excellent strategy.

“I think cities across the province should give it every consideration.”

Prescott Mayor Brett Todd, whose town is policed by OPP that received an explosive 8.55% raise this year, said he likes the plan as well.

“Anything that gets us together, whether it is establishing a war chest or anything else to battle this or take this thing on will convince the government and the arbitration board as well that they have to consider our ability to pay.”

But London Coun. Joe Swan said the city already has a contingency fund that could be used for arbitration costs.

“It’s a standard practice for the city of London. You have to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “The province should help fund this.”

In 2013, an arbitrator awarded Niagara Regional Police a pay increase of 3.5% retroactive to January 2012. Subsequent to that arbitration award, the police board and police association reached a deal in which police pay went up 2.6% in 2013, 2.5% in 2014 and will increase 2.5% in 2015.

At a meeting to discuss soaring police costs Tuesday, several mayors and politicians said it’s time for the province to step in and freeze wages.

In the meantime, Timms said, municipalities should be ready to fight.

“If 40 different municipalities set up this reserve fund to be prepared to defend an appeal, the province has got to get the message we are serious when we say we no longer have the ability to pay.”

Last Modified: August 28, 2014 07:12 PM
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