SUDBURY – Municipalities in the Sudbury area including Manitoulin Island are faced with a seven per cent increase in their share of costs toward the Public Health Sudbury and Districts 2022 operating budget. The overall budget will increase by 2.02 per cent overall, to more than $28 million.
“I do have a problem with the seven percent increase to municipalities,” stated board member Ken Noland (who is the Manitoulin Island representative on the board) at a meeting last Thursday. “I know over the last two years, we talked about when we’re having increases to the municipal level, that maybe we need to start making some cuts or something to help control that.”
Board member Randy Hazlett said, “I also have a concern about the seven percent increase to the municipal levy.” He told the board he had put forward a motion to limit the increase to three percent but that was defeated by the board.
Mr. Hazlett proposed that a review of the health unit’s spending processes might be in order, through the province or internally, so that increases like seven percent won’t happen in the future. “We need to be responsible. I can understand the pressures being felt by the health unit and staff but an increase of seven percent to municipalities is a little too much.”
Board chair Rene Lapierre reminded the board that the overall increase in the budget is two percent, with the municipal increase being seven percent. It was also pointed out a budget reduction would potentially have threatened jobs at the health unit. “The next step would have been to cut programming, so any change has a lot of implications,” he said. He indicated that would also mean cuts to the public health programs and could force the board into conducting a program review. However, the health unit has many programs that it is mandated to provide, and these programs can’t be cut.
The funding for the health unit is made up of $18.9 million from the province with the 18 municipalities that are part of PHSD paying a share of just over $9 million.
Board member Robert Kirwan said, “we’re going to be submitting this budget to the municipalities. I assume they have to accept it and can’t send it back to us and say “no, we don’t agree with this. Go back and sharpen your pencils.”
Chair Lapierre said that this is correct, that under the Ontario Health Promotion Act, municipalities have to pay the levy they are presented with. He pointed out the province is being lobbied on this issue, and that the funding formula (established by the province) hasn’t changed in years, even with increases in the cost of living and other areas. “Yes, the province is providing funding, but it doesn’t reflect the increases in everything else.”
Mr. Kirwan said, “I’d rather us get more information to provide a more realistic increase to the municipalities.”
Board member Claire Gignac said she was concerned with the seven percent increase and would like to see some “wiggle room” in the proposed budget, including lowering the municipal levy to six percent. “I’m not asking for this to go down three or four percent, but if it was at six percent when this budget goes to the municipalities, it won’t be met with as much resistance.”
If the board passes the budget with a seven percent increase to municipalities, PHSD staff will still have to find a shortfall in funds of $50,000.
Board member Bill Leduc said, “we’re going to municipalities asking for a seven percent increase. If we keep going to the municipalities for increased funding, it is sending the wrong message to the province, that it is okay, the municipalities will pick up whatever costs and shortfalls are needed.”
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe stated, “speaking as the medical officer of health, now is absolutely not the time to cut back on programs and services. We are the leads in responding to this public health emergency,” but there is also a backlog of public health services and programs that PHSD has not been able to respond to with staff having to put almost all their time in dealing with the pandemic.
Mr. Hazlett said he feels the health unit needs to tighten its belt and find efficiencies. He pointed out as well that the Manitoulin Sudbury District Services Administration Board (DSB) have over the last years had two, five and three percent increases and have managed. “In the last three years, we’ve had 10, five and seven percent increases to municipalities.”
“I will support the seven percent increase to municipalities,” stated board member Jeffrey Huska. “When I look across my municipality, this is probably the one place where I find the money’s been spent the wisest and the most useful. I think public health has done a remarkable job with what they’ve been handed over the past year and I think we’re very fortunate that they look over their budget as well as they do and find ways to make things operable.”
Carolyn Thain, board member and chair of the finance committee said, “I am amazed at the level of accountability that the staff provides. The monies we get for our budget are through the province and the municipalities. We receive the same money from the province, but the expectations are that we will deliver more programs. Given that, there is no choice: we need to continue to lobby the province and look for help from our local partners. There was talk that the province wanted to realign public health units and this is still on the table. In the meantime, our staff had done a lot of work with partners to do this work together. But with COVID, this process stalled. With the huge demands on staff now with the pandemic and trying to maintain other programs, I am not comfortable going back to staff and telling them to find more efficiencies.”
Dr. Sutcliffe said that with a seven percent increase to municipalities, it would mean a $3.63 increase per person to carry. “This budget contains no enhancements. It’s basically a maintenance budget at a two percent increase overall.”
Mr. Hazlett put forward a motion to decrease the municipal contribution to six percent, but the motion was defeated.
Mr. Kirwan then asked what the shortfall would be at six percent compared to seven percent.
“It would be between $140,000 to 150,000,” said Dr. Sutcliffe. She said it would also mean impacting staffing levels.
Mr. Lapierre then read the original motion which stated, “that the board of health approve the 2022 operating budget for (PHSD) in the amount of $28,020,382 (which includes a seven percent increase to municipalities). The motion was passed, seven votes for and four votes against, including a no vote by Mr. Noland.
A statement published in the board’s agenda report reads, “the proposed 2022 operating budget takes into account the ongoing requirement of public health to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the increasing pressure to reinstate programs that were reduced or suspended as a result of staff redeployment to support the COVID-19 response.”
“The recommended 2022 operating budget continues to include one-time mitigation funding of up to $1,179,500 from the Ministry of Health to offset the challenge to the funding formula announced in 2019. It includes an increase to municipalities of $593,893 (a seven percent increase).
There are no enhancements in the 2022 budget recommendation and any increases are the result of fixed costs. The report said, “a significant increase in the inflation rate is driving fixed cost increases.”