By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County along with the City of Kawartha Lakes is not in a hurry to pay additional money that is being requested of it by the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Late last year the municipalities served by the health unit received letters requesting an increase in the amount of funding they provide to the health unit.
In 2019 the Ford government announced it was changing the funding formula for health units for 2020. Under the former formula the province was to take care of 75 per cent of costs municipalities 25 per cent. However in the case of Haliburton County the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County that split was already about 71/29 meaning the county’s shortfall equated to some $19000. The Ford government also announced last year its plan to merge the province’s 35 health units into 10 with plans to group what is now the HKPR District Health Unit with larger entities including Peterborough Public Health Durham Regional Health Department and Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit.
In November the municipalities served by the HKPR District Health Unit received letters requesting they allot more of their tax levies to the health unit in the wake of funding reductions from the province.
“In 2020 in addition to the $1200000 reduction in base funding from the Ministry of Health we anticipate financial pressures related to increased costs for insurance WSIB leasing and staffing which we estimate will add an additional $500000 to our funding shortfall for a total of $1700000” that letter from health board chairman Doug Elmslie read. “While we were advised by ministry staff that we would expect approximately $800000 in one-time funding to help with our transition costs we have received nothing in writing regarding this amount from the ministry.”
“While we are very appreciative of our municipalities on-going financial support of the health unit with yearly funding increases in the order of two to 2.5 per cent in their portion of our cost-shared budget the increases have not been sufficient to keep up with annual cost increases to the health unit” that letter continued explaining the health unit was seeking a 10 per cent increase in municipal funding.
Neither Haliburton County and City of Kawartha Lakes councils approved the requested increase and during a Jan. 22 meeting county councillors received a followup letter.
“This change to provincial funding has left the board of health in the difficult position of providing programs and services without adequate funding” that letter also from Elmslie read. “That is why we have sought an increase to the municipal levy. If the municipalities have chosen to not pay this increase they will be shown as being in arrears.”
The letter went on to explain the board of health would be seeking advice from the ministry about how to proceed.
“That’s a bit of a hoot” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen. “We’ll be in arrears.”
“Well we will be” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts who’s the county’s representative on the board of health. “I’m not sure what happens here . . . . We talk about fiduciary responsibility . . . When I sit on the board of health I have to support the board of health.”
County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter noted the situation is without precedent and told councillors he’s been in conversation with his counterparts in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County. The municipalities are requesting from the health unit a list of services that are mandated by the province versus discretionary services.
“I think that would help form a better conversation a more detailed conversation” Rutter told councillors.
Council was fine with waiting for that information.
“When you’re being asked for additional money you’re being told you will pay us more money then we want to be able to say hold on we need to have a say in this” Danielsen said. “There’s so much going on in the area of health services in the province and we don’t know where a lot of it’s going to land but I take offence to being sent a letter that says what this one does.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin agreed.
“This is kind of a hill to die on” Devolin said. “The minute you make us pay directly then we’re owed to know the lay of the land.”