04/03/2016 10:00 EDT | Updated 04/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Small towns struggling with policing costs, forcing tax hikes

TORONTO — Smaller communities across the country have been grappling with what they view as an ever-increasing tax bite for policing they can barely afford.

Some say they have had to raise property taxes by as much as 20 to 30 per cent to pay for increases in police costs.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada who has studied the issue, said rising security costs are hurting communities across Canada.

"The real problem is in the rural areas — it's in the contract-policing areas," Leuprecht said.

"It is completely unsustainable. Their tax base is stagnant. They're cannibalizing all other aspects of their budget to pay for policing."

Some communities, with their limited tax bases, are seeing upwards of 25 or 30 per cent of their total budgets go toward policing.

One hard-hit area is in rural eastern Ontario, where communities were surprised to discover they're paying tens of thousands of dollars for police service to wind turbines and cellphone towers.

The issue is especially galling, said one mayor, given his municipality's embrace of green energy in part as a supposed revenue stream.

"We've got 86 of them here so it's big numbers," said Denis Doyle, mayor of Frontenac Islands, population 2,000.

"We went out of our way to support the windmill rollout and now we feel like we've been kicked in the teeth when you find out they charge us back any money we might get from taxes just to pay (police)."

The problem arose as Ontario sought to come up with a more equitable formula for those towns and communities that contract out police services to Ontario provincial police.

The revised formula relies on municipal assessment data that essentially counts the number of residences and commercial buildings in a community.

One problem, the mayors say, is that a wind turbine or cell tower is considered a unit on a par with other commercial buildings, such as a shopping mall or multi-unit apartment tower.

Adding insult to injury is that municipalities are not allowed to charge normal tax rates for green-energy projects, Doyle said.

"Basically, they downloaded the (provincial police) costs to us and take all the money we get in taxes for supporting their wind-turbine promotion and developments across the province."

One southwestern Ontario member of the provincial legislature expressed frustration over the turbine issue.

"My warning for any municipality who was thinking about getting into (wind farm contracts) — willingly or not — is to make sure you have an escalator clause that you can recover these costs from these wind-turbine companies," Bob Bailey recently told the Sarnia Observer.

For Doyle, the revised formula, being phased in over four years starting last year, is "massive" and unreasonable.

"In the rural communities, there's very little policing required; we're pretty much a law-abiding bunch," he said.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press