South Huron denies OPP use of fire stations for washrooms and office space
SOUTH HURON – A request to the municipality from the South Huron Police Services Board (PSB) to allow police officers the use of South Huron fire stations for washroom and office use was met with an emphatic no from council.
The matter arose at the July 20 council meeting after a July 13 recommendation from the PSB recommending that the OPP be allowed access to South Huron’s fire stations for officer work stations and washroom use.
While Deputy Mayor Jim Dietrich, who also chairs the PSB, spoke in favour of allowing the use of the facilities to the OPP, he was outvoted 5-1 by his fellow councillors in a recorded vote. In recommending the motion, Dietrich said it would be a great partnership between the municipality and the OPP, and South Huron should move forward with it.
But Dietrich had no support from the rest of council.
As previously reported, the OPP closed the Exeter and Wingham OPP stations in June 2020 after opening a new centralized Huron detachment in Clinton. At the time of the decision, and since, South Huron Mayor George Finch, a retired OPP officer, has been an outspoken critic of the OPP’s decision to close the Exeter and Wingham stations, telling the Times-Advance last summer it was “a foolish move.”
Finch repeated his concerns at the July 20 meeting, saying he was not in favour of allowing the OPP “carte blanche access” to the municipality’s fire halls.
“The fire halls are there for our firefighters,” Finch said. “It is imperative – imperative – that they are not encumbered by any other outside influences. Quite honestly it would be irresponsible for us to even think this is a good idea, with all due respect. It sounds good in theory, but not in reality.”
Finch said the OPP created the problem of a lack of office space because of “a lack of vision. Now they want us to fix it by enticing us with terms such as ‘partnerships.’”
Finch said the municipality warned the OPP on multiple occasions to not close the Exeter OPP station at the north end of town.
In voicing his opposition to OPP use of the fire stations, Finch said South Huron has to ensure it doesn’t hinder its firefighters in any way.
“The responsibility to provide police facilities are that of the OPP, and not the municipality.”
The mayor said allowing officer access to the fire stations would be “a slippery slope,” and instead said the OPP could seek out other partnerships in South Huron for office and washroom space.
He also said he has empathy for the OPP inspector and the front line officers.
“I have no grudge towards them because they are pawns in this ordeal.”
Coun. Marissa Vaughan agreed with Finch, and said the fire halls are not equipped for OPP use. She said if the OPP have a need, they need to fix it, and shouldn’t be sharing South Huron’s fire halls.
Coun. Aaron Neeb also agreed with Finch’s statements, saying council anticipated there would be issues when the OPP decided to close the Exeter station.
He said South Huron pays a lot for OPP service, and “our taxpayers deserve more than half-hearted attempts at facilities two years after the fact.”
Coun. Dianne Faubert also spoke against the OPP using the fire halls, saying if they wanted a facility in Exeter they shouldn’t have closed the station last year.
“The fire hall is for the firefighters,” she said.
In a recorded vote, Finch and councillors Faubert, Vaughan, Neeb and Barb Willard voted against allowing OPP use of the fire stations, while Dietrich voted in favour of it. Coun. Ted Oke was absent.