The reorganization of health units and cuts to funding decreed by Doug Ford’s provincial government could hit Orillia’s taxpayers in the pocketbooks in a painful way.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) sent a letter to city council this month warning the municipality that their share of the health unit’s funding could skyrocket by more than 33 per cent.
In 2019, the city provided $396,000 as its share of the regional health unit’s funding. Officials warn that number could jump to $528,700 in 2020.
“This is an example of a direct download of expenditure from a provincial program to the municipality,” said Coun. Ted Emond, who concedes the city benefits from the programs and has “historically contributed” to them.
He is concerned about the downloading trend and how local taxpayers can bear the burden.
At Simcoe County Council last week, Emond said a report was tabled that outlines increases to the county’s contribution to long-term care in the wake of the province’s decision to cut its contribution.
“The county said we’re going to make up the difference for the coming year, but during the year, we are going to do an audit of our process to see if we can, in fact, reduce the cost of operation to accommodate the reduction in funding,” Emond explained.
He questioned if the health unit was going through a similar exercise “to determine whether some programs are not as valuable as other programs, so that you can cut the least valuable program and save money for the taxpayers.”
He also questioned if this was “a forever increase” or “an increase for this year, so that health units have the time to do what they should be doing.”
Coun. Ralph Cipolla, the city’s appointee to the board of the SMDHU, said there is still much confusion about what the province’s reduction of health units will mean in practical terms.
In May, the province announced the SMDHU will be disbanded next year as part of a provincial consolidation into larger public-health units.
The Simcoe County portion will be merged with York Region operations, while the Muskoka component will be folded into an area covering a vast geographic region in the northeastern area of Ontario.
“Cutting down from some 30-plus units to 10 is going to create hardships,” said Cipolla. “Our course was to either cut programs or increase the amount the municipalities (contribute).”
He said if the SMDHU is merged with York - as announced earlier this year - then costs to municipalities like Orillia will be going up.
“Right now, it’s not definite,” said Cipolla, noting the purpose of the letter to the city is “just giving us a heads up.”
He said officials from the SMDHU will be meeting with Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop and Barrie-Oro-Springwater MPP Doug Downey to “see what we can do to offset some of that. Stay tuned.”
In the letter to Orillia’s city council from Anita Dubeau, chair of the health unit’s board, she noted the provincial budget decrees the proportion of funding for public health units from municipalities increases to 30% of all programs directed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) (excluding the new dental program for low income seniors, also cited within the provincial budget).
Formerly, municipalities were to provide 25% of the funding for only some of the programs, with the remainder to be 100% provincially funded.
This change was to take place effective April 1, 2019, however, on May 27 Ford announced that the funding shift is postponed to 2020.
“Based on the assumption that the shift in funding will commence on Jan. 1, 2020, and also based on the provision of provincial transition funding for the first quarter of 2020, in order to maintain the full complement of public health programs and services the overall levy for the obligated municipalities would need to increase by 33.21% in 2020 over 2019,” says the letter.
Based on these assumptions, the total levy is forecasted to equal $10.8 million in 2020, up from $8.2 million in 2019.
“The allocation of this levy among our four obligated municipalities (Orillia, Barrie, the County of Simcoe and the District of Muskoka) is based on a combination of population size and property assessment data from MPAC,” noted the letter.
“The board acknowledges that this is a substantial increase in its levy, and thus the board believes it is important for the municipal councils to be informed of this at this time, well before the year end,” said Dubeau in the letter.
“It is also important to note that we may experience unanticipated changes in the parameters that drive this increase, as we await more detailed information from the provincial government.”