County votes down hospital grant, sends budget back to committees

February 18, 2015   ·   0 Comments

Dufferin County Council has narrowly rejected making any donation to the Headwaters Health Care Foundation’s $16-million Commitment to Care campaign beyond the $500,000 given by the previous council in 2014.

The Foundation initially sought $2 million from the County, and the previous council left their successors to decide on the remaining $1.5 million.

The motion lost by a tie vote last Thursday would have seen $375,000 donated in each of the next three years.

The councillors also decided to send the entire budget back to committees in an effort to eliminate a 1.3 per cent tax increase left after the hospital grant had been quashed.

While the biggest issue was the hospital grant, Council was still split on whether the current budget numbers were acceptable.

If Council had approved the budget with the grant included, County residents would have seen a 2.5 percent increase on the county’s portion of their property taxes, which Amaranth Don Mayor MacIver said might be minimal, but impacts some residents in an entirely different way.

“I want to put this in context of our residents living off the Canadian Pension Plan,” he said. “This is a 1.7 per cent increase on pensioners, which means this budget is dipping into their pockets. More and more of their income is gone, and so is the money that is in their pockets. I trust our staff explicitly with how they manage. If we could find a two percent decrease, that would be great.”

Currently, some of the savings in the latest draft of the budget came from a one percent decrease in the budget from staff, finding savings through more efficient processes in the County. Mayor MacIver felt that pushing that number to two percent shouldn’t be an issue. County Treasurer Alan Selby said that it would be much harder than it sounds.

“Putting methods into place to find the $308,000 in savings was difficult – we were just barely able to reach that,” said Mr. Selby. “To do much more than that, it would probably be very unlikely.”

Mayor MacIver suggested that perhaps the best method would then be to send the budgets back to the committees as a plan B for finding more savings.

“The budget has gone through the committee structure, and we’ve seen a substantial decrease from what has been put forward,” he said. “I’d like to see another round of committee deliberation on this, have them go back through all the items, and see if we can find additional savings.”

After a request to separate the hospital donation from the budget, the motion to proceed with the donation failed at a tied vote of 15-15, with many councillors expressing not just personal concerns, but concerns from their own councils and communities as well about the donation.

“I spoke to my council about the hospital contribute, and we unanimously oppose it,” Darren White, Mayor of Melancthon. “We gave up $500,000 last year. If we give away a full $2 million, we have taxed people incorrectly in order to provide that donation. A lot of people don’t want to make that donation.”

He said that after speaking to about 80 people throughout the County (and including in Orangeville), only two people supported the idea, and one of those is on the hospital board.

“There is not an appetite to give money away,” said Mayor White. “I don’t want people to think that we don’t support the hospital, but I think that this is not great timing. There is already a certain amount of tax fatigue in Dufferin, and we need to do what we can to get it as low as possible.”

Mulmur Deputy Mayor Heather Hayes said that for her constituents, it’s making a donation to a hospital that the majority in Mulmur do not use.

“My constituents in the north end, if they encounter a medical issue, are not going to Orangeville,” said Deputy Mayor Hayes. “They go to Markdale, Alliston, and even Owen Sound.”

She added that one reason she has issues with the donation is that it lets the Province off the hook.

The hospital’s five-year, $16-million fundraising campaign is designed to expand existing services, replace aging equipment and add new specialties – areas for which the Ontario government does not currently provide funding.

“This should be the Province’s responsibility, and when we pick up the tab, we are letting them off the hook,” she said.

Shelburne Mayor Ken Bennington added that while everyone can agree that health care is under-funded, County taxpayers have already made a donation to the hospital and shouldn’t have to pay it again. He said that forcing residents to make a donation to the hospital isn’t the County’s responsibility or business.

“This is a no-win situation,” said Ken McGhee, Deputy Mayor of Mono. “We can’t do without a good health-care system, and Headwaters brings a lot more than the health system to the community. When people move here, they want to know what kind of local services are available, through schools and hospitals. We’ve already faced the whole process of under-doctoring in our community.”

He added that while it isn’t part of the County’s mandate to support the hospital, neither is child care, something which the county still supports.

“I am willing to support the compromise of extending the donation over a longer period of time,” said Deputy Mayor McGhee. “I like the fact that we are looking for another one percent in savings, and I wouldn’t put a ceiling on that.”

Both Deputy Mayor Hayes and Orangeville Mayor Jeremy Williams felt that the option to make a donation should be left to residents, and not forced out of their pockets, especially when 40 percent of hospital users are coming from outside the county.

“The hospital does a lot of good things, and we have all been there or will be there at one time or another,” said Mayor Williams. “But I don’t think we should be seeing this in terms of supporting or not supporting the hospital. We’ve already given money and that’s important to understand.”

He also suggested that if council didn’t provide the donation, the hospital would not stop functioning, and would seek funding elsewhere, just as they had asked for it from the County.

“There isn’t a magic amount that we have to give,” he said. “But the money we give is being taken from people who can’t afford it, and we’re not giving them a choice. What we’re saying to our residents is that ‘you have to donate whether you like it or not’, and I can’t support that.”

With the motion to provide the donation to the hospital failing, had council approved the rest of the budget, residents would have  been looking at a 1.3% budget increase. That too, having failed, the budget will go through another round of deliberations before returning to council for another vote in March.

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