The County of Haliburton is acquiescing to the province and local health unit over demands to increase its share of funding by 10 per cent.
County council agreed to pay the full $463,508 requisition to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR), with only Warden Liz Danielsen opposed. The amount increased by $42,371 over 2019 levels as part of a provincial push to have municipalities foot more of the bill for health unit programming.
The County and City of Kawartha Lakes initially declined to pay the increase, protesting the sudden additional cost without any input. But after months of effort, the province and health unit did not budge on the ask.
“This continues to challenge me, where we pay for things that we have no direct supervision or control over,” Coun. Brent Devolin said. “Fundamentally, systemically, I just have a challenge with these sorts of things that fall on municipal taxpayers.”
CAO Mike Rutter said staff already budgeted for the amount in anticipation the County might have to pay it. He added the levy is expected to continue to rise, by about $46,000 in 2021 and $51,000 in 2022.
In a letter to Rutter, HKPR director of corporate services, Angela Vickery, said the province is reducing money allotted to programs it previously funded at 100 or 75 per cent, reducing it down to a uniform 70 per cent. The goal is to have municipalities uniformly paying 30 per cent for all programs.
For the HKPR health unit this year, that amounted to $1.216 million less from the province, but with the Ministry of Health (MOH) expecting it to provide the same mandated programs and services. Vickery said there was $773,300 in funding from the province to mitigate the impact this year. That funding is expected again in 2021, but not in 2022.
Deputy warden Andrea Roberts, the County’s representative on the board of health, said HKPR has worked to find cost-saving efficiencies. Rutter said many of those cost-saving methods were discussed in closed session as they involved identifiable individuals.
“They have made significant changes,” Roberts said. “But these are programs that are mandated.”
The province is undergoing a modernization of health units. The County had representatives at a regional consultation session in Peterborough December 2019. MOH spokesperson David Jensen said that process is still on pause due to the pandemic.
“Once the COVID-19 pandemic is contained and risks are mitigated for the people of Ontario, we will consider how to move forward with the modernization process,” he said.
Rutter said the goal of the County in withholding the funding was to get more information and send a message to the province about downloading concerns.
“In many ways, those goals have been accomplished,” Rutter said. “I know many members of council have discussed this informally with provincial representatives as well. And I really am confident the modernization process will address some of your concerns.”