There wasn’t an empty seat in City Hall last night as residents packed council chambers to hear the City of Dryden’s OPP Costing Committee’s final recommendation on the OPP Costing Proposal – just under two years since the initial process began.

Ultimately, staff recommended against accepting the OPP’s offer, - due to ongoing governance, financial, liability and service level concerns. City councillors will formally vote to accept or reject the proposal at a regular council meeting later this month, ahead of the May 27, 2019 deadline.

“Council went through their process to make sure that everything was good. Everything was transparent. The association is happy with the way that things are going, and it looks like council wants to keep our police service. It looks good so far,” said president of the Dryden Police Association, Scott Silver.

“Through this whole process, our members have been going to work, doing their job and doing a great job, even while stressed about this. Our members have been protecting this city with their blood, sweat and tears, and we’ll keep forging ahead,” Silver added.

The committee - featuring members of council, the police services board and the community - say they were concerned about a loss of governance control and assurance by switching to the OPP’s model, the loss of a Dryden-dedicated community service officer and impacts to employees and the community as a whole, but all committee members agreed that both police services provide excellent service levels.

A larger and ongoing concern for city staff is Dryden’s precarious financial position. While the OPP’s model projected an estimated $1 million in savings by year 5 of the OPP, the roughly $4.5 million in transitional costs would be very difficult to swallow – as staff continue to work towards more financial flexibility and lowering debt repayments in 2021.

The city’s debt repayment plan would have to be restructured if the city accepts the OPP’s model, costing the city roughly $125,000 over four years in additional interest costs. The upfront transitional costs would also have to be financed through 2019 city reserves, which as councillor Norm Bush noted, would wipe out year’s of hard work by council and staff to rebuild those reserves.

During an open discussion, members of the OPP Costing Committee and council members shared their final thoughts on their last two years of work, with the public in attendance.

“I wanted to look at the facts and the figures for what is the best option for the community. I feel that the best option for the community is to stay with the DPS. Community policing is really important, and there were certain gaps in the OPP’s proposal,” said OPP Costing Committee community member, Andrew Skene.

“Either organization could effectively police our city. But together, with both services, our city gets the best of both worlds. By switching models, there are too many unknowns and risks, and prolonging the city’s debt would be irresponsible for taxpayers,” said police services board chair Judi Green, who has worked with both police services in her career of over 28 years.

“Our Indigenous community in our town, and visitors, feel that Dryden is very traditional. I truly believe that the Dryden Police Service is a big reason for that,” said councillor Dave McKay, who joined the committee partway through the costing process, following the municipal elections.

“There will always be cost-pressures, even more so with the province downloading costs. But I feel that we are very fortunate to have the Dryden Police Service as our police service. They are incredible, and the ability to call in the OPP’s services is always very much appreciated,” said councillor Michelle Price.

“We know there will be critics of the report and recommendations. Some will say we didn’t go far enough to explore this, and some will say we went too far. But these decisions for a community will divide us more than unite us. But at the end of the day, this report is the result of a necessary evil to make an informed decision for the community,” said councillor Shayne MacKinnon.

“It’s not about numbers, it’s about people. There is still some split in our population, and it will be there for some time, but you have to do what’s best for the whole community. We have the best of both worlds, why change that?” asked councillor Marty MacKinnon - who compared the OPP costing process to the recent Dryden Fire Service dispute, adding that he wanted to avoid creating another fissure and divide in the community - but councillors needed to do their due diligence.

“Strictly based on financial considerations, we’ve received no complaints regarding the Dryden Police Service. Their performance and dedication is much appreciated for everything that they do for the city. But the OPP is a very good police force as well,” said councillor Norm Bush, adding that costs for both police services are expected to rise year-over-year.

“It can’t be said enough about how stressful this was for members of the Dryden Police Service. Their professionalism, and Chief Palson’s professionalism, were outstanding throughout. It was never about questioning their service, it was about trying to find cost savings to help with our debt. As a council, we have to do just that,” said councillor John Carlucci.

“I think administration and council both have a much better understanding of the costs, flexibility and service levels of both police services. There were a number of things that came up, that I know I wasn’t even thinking about when it came to the full financial impact. Understanding those things has been very helpful,” said Mayor Greg Wilson, adding that he appreciated the community’s input throughout.

The OPP’s costing proposal will be terminated if the city votes against accepting the proposal. However, the city may revisit the issue in the future. Councillor Bush says that by 2021, the city should do its due diligence to explore the option again – as they’ll have more financial freedom with lesser debt repayments.

Councillor Shayne MacKinnon disagreed, saying that due to the impact that the process has had on DPS members and the community, the city should put a moratorium in place on OPP costing discussions for 15 years, not allowing the city to revisit the issue until 2034.

Throughout the meeting, all members of council and costing committee members had high praises for the professionalism of both Chief of Police Doug Palson, and Detachment Commander of the Dryden OPP, Ed Chwastyk.

According to the results of a recent survey, Dryden residents mostly agreed with the OPP Costing Committee. 47 per cent of respondents said that only the DPS would provide sufficient service, with 26 per cent supporting the OPP’s model, 21 per cent saying both models would suffice, and under 1 per cent said they weren’t in support of either policing model. Over 50 per cent said only the costs of the DPS are acceptable. 28 per cent supported the OPP, and 11 per cent supporting both policing models. 

For more information:
City moving ‘full steam ahead’ towards OPP decision
City of Dryden – OPP Costing Committee Report