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Residents call for increased OPP presence at Washago meeting

'I wish I could put a car on Muskoka Street every day ... but the reality is we can't do that,' sergeant tells residents
OPP sergeants Matt Stoner, left, and Eric Steele discussed local policing issues with the public at a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Washago.

Whether you witness garbage dumping, speeding, erratic driving, or any other crime taking place in your neighbourhood, reporting it will help police identify hot spots and increase crime enforcement, OPP officials explained during a recent town hall meeting.

Dozens of residents joined the OPP and Severn Township officials at the Washago Community Centre on Wednesday evening for the first of two town hall meetings in the township, where police explained reporting methods and local traffic issues before fielding questions from the public.

“A lot of people will call us and say, ‘We have a problem here, we have a problem there.’ We don’t see that if you don’t call in and report it, whether it’s online, telephone or emergency,” said Orillia OPP Sgt. Matt Stoner. “Without that data, we don’t know where to place our people. Like everything else in the world, we have a finite amount of resources and we have to put them in the right place at the right time.”

Beyond calling 911 for emergencies or filing a report over the phone, Stoner encouraged residents to make use of the OPP’s online reporting tool for non-emergency situations.

“This can be done for any minor occurrence — anything without a suspect, non-emergent … nothing life or death … traffic complaints where you don’t have a lot of detail on the vehicle, maybe have a licence plate,” he said.

“When we get the calls, whether it’s online or through the comms centre … we can then create an occurrence and it gives us geomatics. We can start to plot this; we get hot spots and we know that this is a place where we need to go.”

During the meeting, several residents raised concerns about speeding in Washago, particularly along Muskoka Street, which runs through the heart of the village and transitions to a 50 km/h limit from an 80 km/h limit farther afield.

According to traffic data, OPP Central Region Sgt. Eric Steele said, the 85th percentile speed in the area is about 66 km/h, and he explained the typical standard for enforcement is for the 15 per cent of vehicles exceeding that threshold.

“It’s the standard for traffic managers and engineers for what’s an acceptable rate of speed on a roadway,” he said. “No matter where you are, whatever road it is, there’s always going to be 15 per cent of vehicles that are just either going to be outlandish or way over the average.”

Steele noted some vehicles may also initially travel more quickly than 50 km/h when transitioning from the 80 km/h zone, and he similarly encouraged residents to report instances of speeding to police.

One resident took issue with the need to report crime to receive enforcement, suggesting OPP should already be on hand to proactively enforce the law.

“You want us to call in to you to complain about speeders, and then when you get enough people complaining ... you’re going to do enforcement? Or are we paying a bunch of our taxes for you to do your job and police our community?” she said.

Stoner replied there are officers assigned to Washago, but that can fluctuate depending on needs throughout the detachment area.

“The whole thing is that if we only have one car, two cars … we have calls for service that we regularly go to. We also have to balance that, so it comes with competing pressures,” he said. “If we have the data, this becomes prioritized.”

He said residents can push for traffic-calming measures with township officials, as well, to help reduce speeding in areas of concern throughout the village.

“I wish I could put a car on Muskoka Street every day. It would be great, but the reality is we can’t do that,” he said.

“Things like the signs on springs that shrink the lanes ... There are all sorts of cost-effective calming measures that you could get, which may actually do the trick for you.”

Other residents suggested ideas like reducing the speed limit to 40 km/h through the village core, installing larger speed limit signage, installing automated speed cameras, or designating the neighbourhood a community safety zone to help deal with traffic issues.

While OPP officials spoke against reducing the speed limit to 40 km/h on smaller sections of Muskoka Street — noting the speedier 15 per cent of drivers could create even more unsafe conditions — they said the majority of the measures would need to be implemented by township officials.

Alison Gray, the township’s clerk, said measures like automated speed cameras are still quite new in Simcoe County and relatively costly to implement.

“There’s very few municipalities in the County of Simcoe that have rolled that out yet because it is so new,” she said. “There’s a trial going on in the City of Barrie right now; there’s one going on in Innisfil … and everyone’s waiting to see how effective they are because (it’s) not an inexpensive program to put in place.”

To make Washago a community safety zone, Gray said, residents would need to write a letter to council, which would then be subject to a staff report and council consideration.

Gray also said a staff report on potential traffic-calming initiatives is set to come to council “in the next month or so.”

Some residents at the meeting raised concerns about local bylaw violations — like waste or excessive weed growth on local properties — and Gray encouraged them to reach out to the bylaw department for enforcement.

“Severn is a large municipality … You need to be our eyes and ears,” she said. “If you see things going on, we need you to go online to the website or give us a call at the office and let us know. We’re happy to go out.”

The second town hall is scheduled for Wednesday, April 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Coldwater Community Centre.


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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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