Woodstock introduces expensive plan to expand town police services

by | Jun 28, 2024

Under proposed policing model, Woodstock Police Force to patrol entire town, highways within borders, and Wotstak First Nation

Woodstock Police Force may soon be patrolling all wards and potentially Wotstak First Nation. 

Mayor Trina Jones and WPF Chief Gary Forward introduced the plan to expand the force at the June 25 council meeting, but the mayor acknowledged that the expanded service would cost taxpayers in the outlying wards. 

Jones noted that earlier this year, Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin approved Woodstock’s policing expansion plan. The detailed plan covered operational and equipment requirements, personnel and costs to expand Woodstock Police Force services from Ward 4, the former town limits, to include Wards 1, 2, 3 and 5. 

The mayor said the new plan submitted to the province would include covering Wotstak First Nation and all highways with the Woodstock boundaries. 

She acknowledged the high costs of the expanded service, noting the annual policing budget would increase from its current $3.7 million to $8.7 million. 

Jones said rural taxpayers would bear the costs of the policing changes. Their property tax rates would jump 15 cents per $100 assessment over three years, from 2025 to 2027. 

She said Wards 1, 2, 3 and 5 property owners’ taxes would jump five cents per year from its current 70 cents per 100 assessment to 85 cents in 2027. 

Jones admitted that while residents in Woodstock’s rural wards face a significant increase, the 80-cent rate compares favourably with other former LSDs across the province, including Carleton North. She added that it also compares favourably with communities that operate their own municipal police departments. 

Even with the tax increase, Jones said the plan required substantial provincial funding to make it feasible. 

She said the department offered $4.2 million in transition funding. 

“Although we feel there’s still a financial gap we will need to work with the minister and his team to try and close, we do feel comfortable that we arrived at a transition plan that we thought we could share with the public,” said Jones. 

She said she worked with CAO Allan Walker and Finance Director Jennifer Crabbe to develop a workable and financially viable transition plan, which they shared with Minister Austin.

While the proposed plan submitted to the minister included coverage of Wotstak First Nation, Jones said they are yet to talk to the band council. Any policing plan would require agreement between the band, the town, the province and the federal government. 

She said it makes more sense for the Woodstock Police Force to cover the First Nation community, noting that it is in the middle of Woodstock’s expanded boundaries. 

Jones explained that the expansion of the Woodstock Police Force’s coverage area would occur gradually over two years, starting in 2025. 

She said the police force would begin in 2025 covering only Ward 4 and expand to cover Ward 5, Grafton and North, and Southampton in October 2025. Pending an agreement, the expansion would include the Wolastoq at the same time. 

The force would add Ward 3, Jacksonville and Wakefield in October 2026, followed by Wards 1, 2 and the highway in January 2027. 

While police coverage will expand gradually to various wards, Jones said the tax hike will begin immediately in all wards. A 15-cent tax hike would mean an extra $375 in tax owed on a property valued at $250,000. 

Jones said the town would need to borrow $1.8 million in estimated capital costs to complete the policing expansion. Still, analyzing the town’s debt-to-revenue ratio leaves it in a good financial position. 

Jones also hoped that an improved fiscal framework surrounding a new municipal funding formula could alleviate some financial strain. 

Chief Forward attended the council meeting to outline the proposed policing model. He and Mayor Jones explained that it closely follows the model unveiled to the public last year. 

The plan outlined the requirements for allowing the force to expand its 24-7 police coverage from its current 15 sq. km. and 5,500 population to 500 sq. km. and 11,000 population. 

The proposed model provides 24/7 coverage for 365 days a year, with each ward patrolled 24 hours per day. It would require the force to double staff levels and purchase more police cars and equipment. 

At the time, Forward said the force already surpasses national standards, as will the expanded force. 

In response to a question from Deputy Mayor Mark Rogers, the chief acknowledged an increased area of concern since they released the initial policing plan. 

In announcing the proposed policing change, the town stressed the model’s goals. 

“The Woodstock Police Force’s proposal seeks to enhance public safety and operational efficiency across the broader region,” the town stated in its media release. “Specifically, the initiative aims to build on existing partnerships, ensure 24/7 response availability, prioritize police visibility, and address community safety concerns through clearly defined and publicly communicated strategic planning objectives.”

Mayor Jones said the town and the police force’s priority is the community’s safety and well-being. 

“This regionalization proposal is a step towards ensuring that all residents, regardless of their location, receive consistent and high-quality policing services,” she said. 

Jones encouraged residents to get involved in the public process. 

“We are committed to transparency and public engagement,” she said. “We look forward to engaging with the public in the coming weeks as community feedback will be an important factor in council’s decision.”

FOREST FIRE INDEX – click image for current status

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