Sundridge council worried about hefty increases in Eastholme budget

·3 min read

Eastholme Home for the Aged has a lot of explaining to do.

That's the assessment from Sundridge council after elected officials saw and debated the old age home's 2021 budget.

Rather than accept the budget, council tabled it and wants a representative from Eastholme to appear before council and explain the extra costs.

The municipal share of the levy, which is shared by 14 municipalities mostly in the Almaguin region, has been set at $1.4 million and is a 10 per cent increase over last year.

Additionally, the nursing home, which is based in Powassan, is also charging the member municipalities a one-time assessment of $128,220 and cites COVID-19 costs as the reason.

Sundridge's share of the annual levy plus the one-time COVID-19 special assessment totals $39,682.

The annual levy works out to $36,375 while the one-time COVID-19 cost tacks on an extra $3,307 to the municipality.

Both numbers were more than enough to set off Coun. Steve Hicks, who went on a tear during the debate.

“I need to see a better budget,” Hicks said.

“I need to see more details. I have a lot of questions with what's going on in this budget. I'm not even remotely willing to support it based on what they currently have.”

An element of the budget Hicks found troubling was even though the Ontario government gave Eastholme an additional $1.5 million to offset COVID costs, Hicks said the old age home still increased the levy to the 14 municipalities by 10 per cent and dinged them all with a one-time COVID-19 special assessment.

Hicks acknowledged the need for society to look after the elderly but then quickly added “I'm not convinced this is the way forward.”

Hicks says the entire Eastholme budget for 2021 has been set at $12.8 million.

“That's for 128 seniors which works out roughly to $98,000 per senior,” he said.

Hicks says if there's one thing he's learned since being on council is that numbers never go down, “they always go up.

“So what is the actual cost per senior going to look like in five years or 10 years and where is the money going to come from?” he asked.

Hicks says while COVID has gummed up many budgets, what Eastholme is presenting to the 14 municipalities “is not a sustainable way of doing things.”

Hicks wondered if today's budget is already at $12.6 million, how long will it be before it hits $15 million or $16 million.

The Eastholme budget explains to the municipalities that the annual levy is up because it lost capital funding to the tune of $90,600 and that money was to go to replace aging infrastructure.

As for the one-time special COVID-19 assessment, Eastholme says there were several reasons for this, including the need to buy extra COVID supplies while the cost for food for the clients has increased five to 15 per cent.

Also, insurance jumped 40 per cent in 2020 because of lawsuits and Eastholme adds the member municipalities can expect insurance to rise still further as the number of class action suits increase.

Eastholme further explains that the COVID-19 money from the Ministry of Long Term Care doesn't cover insurance issues.

On the insurance rates rising, Coun. Steve Rawn said he wanted more information from Eastholme on what the lawsuits involved.

Before tabling the Eastholme budget and asking for a representative to appear before council, Hicks asked if Eastholme is doing any long-term planning on where money in the future will come from to fund the facility.

“The money has to come from somewhere and I'm not convinced about anything (in) this business model,” he said.

Hicks added “it's going to be a hard night” for the Eastholme official who addresses Sundridge council.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget