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DSCF1080 560Former Southampton Mayor, Art Knechtal during his delegation to Saugeen Shores Council, September 26.

Hub Staff

Former Southampton Mayor, Art Knechtel presented a delegation during the September 26 Committee of Whole meeting and advised Saugeen Shores Council to look into an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) costing estimate. It was the first time he had spoken to council as a whole on the issue but had made mention of it at two police facilities meetings held in July and August. that he has brought up at both Police Facilities meetings in July and August.

Knechtel told council, with a crowd of supporters behind him, that he felt that he has been misunderstood and that when he took Saugeen Shores Police Chief Dan Rivett’s facility tour he pointed out that his concern has to do with what would happen with the present police force. He said that Council should look into what Saugeen Shores being policed by the OPP Shores would look like.

“They'd have better wages, that’s a true fact. And you’ll find that out if we investigate. They would have excellent benefits, excellent pensions. They would have the most up-to-date equipment in the world,” said Knechtel. He continued, “I feel that our family of policemen would be looked after if we got to that stage. And all I’m doing tonight is asking for an investigation.”

Knechtel asked council to look at what he called Saugeen Shores’ sister city, Kincardine, stating that they have been under OPP jurisdiction for many years and called Kincardine’s for Mayor, Charlie Mann a visionary.

“They spend 1.3 million dollars a year less, each and every year, for policing than we do,” Knechtel said, adding that their building was built free-of-charge.

“I don’t think they need to build a thing. They need to make adjustments,” Knechtel said of the current Saugeen Shores police station.

“‘[The OPP are] all around us. And the only way that you’re going to find out is to ask about a costing,” said Knechtal as he called going the route of OPP a “tremendous savings.”

He continued, “the era of municipal policing has come and gone and anyone that’s my age has seen a lot of thing come and go. And I think the province has a plan that hopes to take all municipal forces over. And the final nail in the coffin was in 2013 when they cut this municipality from municipal policing by 1 million dollars.”

He finished his delegation by telling council they had a “golden key” in front of them. “Make no mistake about this, you are the authority, and ask for costing on behalf of your taxpayers, and if you didn't I think it would be totally fiscally irresponsible,” said Knechtel who was met with applause from his supporters in the crowd.

Chairman of the Police Board, Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau thanked Knechtel for bringing this before council but said with the greatest respect for the former Southampton mayor that he would have to disagree with him on this particular point, adding that he didn't want to rebut him point by point.

“The thing it comes down to for me is that I will not accept and can’t even consider the possibility of surrendering local control of another vital municipal institution to the people at Queen’s Park,” said the Deputy Mayor who brought up government’s hand in forcing local schools to close and allocating energy projects as he gave the example of the contentious wind turbine located at UNIFOR.

“I just think that every time we do that we end up the losers here in rural Ontario. And I won’t do it again, not with another important one like this.”

Charbonneau then refuted Knechtel’s claim about the benefits of saving 1.3 million, if Saugeen Shores went the way of OPP.

“If you cut 1.3 million from the police service, whether the OPP does it or the Saugeen Shores Police Service does it, you will not end up with the same level of service. Eighty-five percent of policing costs is wages and benefits, that’s true for the OPP, that’s true for the Town of Saugeen Shores. You cut 1.3 million, you cut 1.1 in wages and benefits that’s about eight or nine cops, that’s more than a third of the service,” Charbonneau said. He later insisted the service would then be inadequate and added that a strong, cost effective and locally controlled service is the way to go.

Following Charbonneau's comments Knechtel said that he loved it before there was the amalgamation, but the “Harris steamroller”, meaning Mike Harris’ provincial Conservative Government, they could not stop; and that this “[OPP] steamroller, I don’t think you can stop,” said Knechtel, who then said it all boils down to money.

“I'm not telling you to go OPP, I'm just telling you to open the door and give the tax payers in this community the chance to look at it,” said Knechtel.

Councillor Cheryl Grace, who recently toured Aylmer, Ontario as of her research as a member of the Southampton Town Hall Ad Hoc Committee, said they have a municipal police force and their council is currently investigating the OPP option.

“After the municipality chooses the OPP option, then you have to have three years of operation under the OPP before you can get the final billing costs. So what they are able to give us initially is not what it’s going to be necessarily down the road, and that gave me some pause,” said Councillor Grace.

She continued, “it’s just not a year or 18 months, it’s making a commitment to go OPP and then they tell you what the real story’s going to be.” Grace added that they first have to track patterns and calls.

After over 25 minutes of discussion, Mayor Mike Smith joked that the debate is far more interesting that one going on in the United States between presidential candidates. Ultimately Mayor Smith thanked Knechtel for bringing up the issue, as he “brought some good points and ideas we need to consider.”

Following the Committee of a Whole meeting, Police Facility Committee Board Member and Councillor Dave Myette said that he didn't think Knechtel presented anything new to council.

“On one hand he says there are so many questions that remain unanswered but, on the other hand he says this is a done deal and that the tide is rolling through,” said Myette, who said that he keeps an open mind with his decisions and won’t make a decision until everyone’s offered their input.

“One of the things [the Police Services Board is] doing presently is seeking input from the public, through the police online survey,” said Myette, later adding that the results he has seen is that “a vast majority of people in Saugeen Shores are very happy with the current policing model that we have today.”

See also - Letter: Reader makes a case for an OPP costing (video)

See also - High engagement, still no decisions at police facilities meeting


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