Health unit taking a “moderate” approach on 2022 budget increase

·3 min read

Southwestern Public Health board members on Friday, Dec. 10, narrowly approved a proposed 2022 budget that calls for a one percent increase in the levies on Elgin, St. Thomas and Oxford—but that depends on getting a one percent “base” funding increase from the Ontario government.

They also learned the Ontario government had finally come across with some long-promised money, and $4-million taken from the three municipalities by the health unit in a special levy demand earlier this year could now be returned.

Because of delays receiving a promised one-time $685,000 grant for infection prevention and control and $8.4-million in special COVID-19 funding, the health unit resorted to a special levy.

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, chairman of the board’s finance and facilities standing committee, reported that $6.4-million had been received by SWPH. The balance of the funding will be paid in early 2022.

However, he said, the health unit had heard nothing about an increase to its annual “base” funding, which hadn’t risen in years. The recommended budget anticipated the base funding would increase by one percent in 2022.

If it didn’t, he said, the municipalities would have to pick up additional cost, more than doubling how much they would be levied otherwise.

Executive Director Cynthia St. John said the committee was presented three options, the first, considered as “optimal” by staff, called for a 3.2 percent increase in both base and municipal funding.

The second was for a one percent increase, and the third would leave the current levy unchanged, but would lead to reductions in services.

In all cases two non-union jobs at the health unit, one a director’s, currently vacant because of attrition, would not be filled.

The committee recommended the middle option, but Mayor Preston said members were concerned if the province didn’t increase its base funding, the levy increase for municipalities would double or more.

Oxford Warden and Norwich Mayor Larry Martin noted that he had opposed recommending the one-percent increase.

Pay for health unit employees would be going up 1.75 percent next year, he explained. At a one-percent base funding and levy increase, Southwestern would have to reduce in some measure the services it provided.

He suggested an increase of 2.2 to 2.5 percent. “Going backward is never a good idea.

“We’re not even average in the province for a lot of the health outcomes we’re trying to prevent.”

Ms St. John, in response to a question, said if the Ministry of Health didn’t provide a one percent increase in base funding, the cost for the recommended budget next year would be an additional $114,000 in Elgin’s levy, $88,000 for St. Thomas’s and $250,000 for Oxford.

Central Elgin Deputy Mayor Tom Marks, a board member, said he’d sat through a long Elgin County budget session the previous day.

“The county is struggling this year,” he said. He thought the one-percent increase represented “a good balance.”

Mayor Preston said he didn’t believe his committee saw a reduction in services from a one-percent increase. “I didn’t hear doom and gloom.”

Ms St. John said the health unit would be able to preserve the status quo in services with a one-percent increase.

Mayor Martin, Ingersoll Mayor Ted Comiskey and boards member Lee Rowden opposed the one-percent scenario, but Mayor Preston, Deputy Mayor Marks, Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, board member Dave Warden and South-West Oxford Mayor David Mayberry voted to adopt it.

Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express

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