Former Police Services Board Chair expresses concern regarding proposed correctional facility and increased tax burden

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by Don Sherrit

I had the privilege of serving the people of North Grenville for ten years as a provincially appointed member and Chair of the North Grenville Police Services Board, an entity that oversees how policing is provided in our community. I retired from that volunteer role in March, 2021. I have been following the news surrounding the plan to build the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC) in Kemptville. Since the announcement, I have been concerned about the potential for an increased property tax burden for the residents and businesses of North Grenville. That concern has only grown as I’ve learned more details, leading me to speak publicly regarding my concerns.

For correctional facilities, the provincial government does not pay the assessment-based property taxes that property owners are subject to, but instead pays what is referred to as a “heads and beds” payment in lieu of taxes. That amount is $75 per prisoner, and is based on the previous year’s occupancy (how many “beds” were in use). It will result in substantially less revenue for North Grenville than taxation based on property assessment, while the municipality will still be responsible for the cost of delivering roads infrastructure, fire services, public works services, or any other services funded by local property taxes related to the EOCC.

Regarding policing services, the Town of Penetanguishene, home to the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) is a cautionary tale. For the past 15 years, the Town has been reimbursed by the provincial government for the policing costs associated with the CNCC, but that will stop at the end of this year. It would have happened even sooner, December 31, 2019, had the government not failed to give proper notice to the Town, notice that was reportedly provided in the fall of 2019 to a handful of other municipalities who were still being reimbursed. For those municipalities, reimbursement stopped at the end of 2019.

In a letter to the Solicitor General dated October 12, 2021, Mayor Douglas Leroux reports that the loss of the cost recovery for OPP policing costs for the CNCC is expected to be $373,952 in 2022, representing a 3.3% tax levy increase. And that payment in lieu of taxes I discussed above? The Town’s share was $51,000 in 2020. The math does not look good.

Penetanguishene’s situation is not unique. CTV news reported on October 15, 2021, that the Office of the Solicitor General said that the adjustment brings CNCC and the Town of Penetanguishene “in line with the remaining 24 provincial correctional facilities in Ontario”. In other words, the downloading of policing costs is the standard.

The actual policing costs will be based on Calls for Service to the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC). In Penetanguishene, average Calls for Service to their correctional facility for the four-year period beginning 2017 was 671, or approximately 14% of the municipality’s total Calls for Service. Greater Napanee is home to the Quinte Detention Centre (QDC) which has a capacity of 228 prisoners, very close to the 235-bed facility proposed for North Grenville. Greater Napanee taxpayers have been responsible for QDC policing costs for as long as people can remember. The average annual Calls for Service to the QDC sits at approximately 13% of the municipality’s overall Calls for Service. In 2020, the Calls for Service directly related to policing the QDC cost the municipality $297,000, equating to approximately a 2.5% tax increase year after year. As well, don’t forget that we have learned the province chose the Kemptville location, in part, because it has enough land to allow for expansion over time, which would likely lead to an increase in the demand for policing services at the EOCC.

Mayor Leroux in Penetanguishene has been very vocal in pushing back on the downloading of costs associated with provincial correctional facilities on to municipal taxpayers. I couldn’t agree more; the smaller the tax base, the greater the impact, and North Grenville has a small tax base of only 7,507 properties. To avoid the same battles that Penetanguishene is now fighting, the residents of North Grenville need to challenge our local representatives to stop accepting at face value the provincial government’s questionable, if not hollow, promises. Unless the province plans to gaslight an entire municipality, they need to wake up and realize we understand the costs this community will bear should the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex be built, and they are simply unacceptable.

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