County of Haliburton councillors are upset with the province about getting pushed to pay 10 per cent more into the local health unit.
Council discussed the dispute Feb. 26. The Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit has asked municipalities to increase funding by 10 per cent over last year, due to formula changes imposed by the province. For the County, that’s an extra $42,137 compared to 2019, yet to be released by council.
County council requested more information about any discretionary spending from the unit. Rutter reported the health unit said everything it is spending is mandated.
“Taxation by stealth,” Coun. Carol Moffatt said. “The provincial government makes changes to a body that has the mandate to just ask for a certain amount of money and there’s no discussion.”
The province is shifting the provincialmunicipal split for health units from 75-25 to 70-30. Certain programs once funded 100 per cent by the province now require municipal contribution.
The City of Kawartha Lakes is also reluctant to release funding, with its council voting not to provide the extra $185,912 it’s been billed for.
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care spokesperson David Jensen said costsharing was kept the same last year to “provide municipalities with additional time to find efficiencies.”
A 10 per cent cap was instituted for this year’s increases to ease transition, he said. The province is consulting with partners about health unit changes, including consolidation. Board of health chair Doug Elmslie, a City of Kawartha Lakes councillor, said the board made its concerns about changes known at a consultation session in Peterborough Dec. 19.
“We’re pitting our partner municipalities against the health unit that is trying to work for their benefit,” Elmslie said. “It makes it very uncomfortable for the councillors and the elected officials who sit on the board.”
He added he is hopeful the consultation report would lead to a solution. But the health unit needs the extra municipal funding to be released.
“We are still mandated by the province to provide the services for the programs that we have,” he said. “But at some point during this year the money is going to run out.”
When asked whether the province is open to reversing its funding decisions based on feedback, Jensen said “our government is committed to working with our partners to modernize public health services. We are making changes to ensure that public health units are sustainably funded and better positioned to support the needs of people.”
He added municipalities are obligated under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to pay unit expenses.
Deputy warden Andrea Roberts, also a board member, said the unit has worked to cut costs as much as possible.
“I’ve seen them make changes in staffing, I’ve seen them make changes in operational, organizational things that have been very effective,” Roberts said.
Coun. Brent Devolin said municipalities do not get enough say about the funding.
“They spend our money without any checks and balances,” Devolin said. “Don’t go through the charade of having us involved.”