Councillors adopt 2018 budget
In a 4-3 recorded vote, Wednesday, Lennox and Addington County council decided to make a one-year contribution of $60,000 to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF).
Last week, councillors deferred consideration of the UHKF request for a $328,000 annual commitment over the next 10 years pending the provision of more information.
Chief administrative officer Brenda Orchard gave an overview of where four neighbouring counties were with their grant requests. Frontenac has committed to $55,061 a year for 10 years. Leeds and Grenville voted to levy half a per cent of its annual tax bill for hospital requests. It had not decided how to split the $186,000 between requests from Kingston and from Brockville. Prince Edward deferred consideration of a $61,797 annual request for a year.
Orchard also confirmed the Lennox and Addington County General Hospital Foundation would not be making a budget request.
While Orchard called the decision a “political” one and indicated she didn’t want to influence council, she reminded them of two things. One was that any long-term commitment would bind the new council to be elected this fall. That, she said, could put pressure on the council that will have to manage construction of ambulance bases in Stone Mills and Loyalist with no guarantee of the 50-per-cent funding from the province the County is hopeful it will receive.
Orchard also said it struck her the other municipalities were being asked for about $60,000 annually, compared to $300,000-plus. She noted those numbers were influenced by a population in the Amherstview area that uses Kingston hospitals for primary care, but was concerned that a request based on patient visits would suggest the County is in the health-care business.
Councillors appeared to share Orchard’s concern about long-term investments.
“There are so many unknowns, I don’t think it’s fair to saddle next year’s council with our decision because I’ll take a far-out prediction that half of this council won’t be here next year,” Warden Bill Lowry said.
Others echoed that sentiment, but were divided about this year’s grant. Both Stone Mills representatives favoured doing something this year, with John Wise suggesting keeping the status quo and Eric Smith hoping to do something.
“I don’t think we want to pull the cart from under them. I agree with leaving a long-term commitment to the next council. I don’t think it would look very good if we said nothing this year and maybe we’re going to do something next year,” he said, calling the acute-care hospitals a necessity. “We all use that spot, one way or another.”
Greater Napanee’s Gord Schermerhorn, outspoken in his opposition to the donation last week, reiterated he doesn’t feel comfortable making a donation when the County is facing its own pressures with ambulance base construction. Schermehorn questioned why any donation is necessary now.
“What is the rush? Why do we have to make a donation this year? Why can’t we let the new council decide in 2019? They might give a million — I don’t know,” he said. “It would make me feel good if I was able to say let’s give them a whole bunch of money, but it’s taxpayers’ money and it’s council’s money. We’re running a county — the road system, the John M. Parrott Centre, the library — those things. We are not running the foundation of Kingston or Lennox and Addington County hospitals.”
Schermerhorn’s Greater Napanee cohort Marg Isbester made a motion to defer the decision to next year’s council, citing uncertainty over the ambulance tenders and questioning what the County’s contribution will actually be spent on.
Lowry said he couldn’t support the motion and see Lennox and Addington give nothing while other communities were trying to make contributions that would help the foundation reach its budget.
Again, Schermehorn questioned the value of giving this year.
“My feeling on this is you’re not going to give them what they want,” he said. “They’ve got $54 million in the bank. So, take $50,000 or $60,000 if people are thinking that. You might better take that and put it in that garbage can over there. Really, at the end of the day it’s meaning virtually nothing to them as far as a donation is concerned to buy equipment for three hospitals… Actually, if you want to know the truth: As a taxpayer, you’re going to embarrass me.”
Smith and Wise countered that assertion.
“I think they were quite grateful for the last 10 years that we gave $100,000 a year,” Smith said. “I guess any amount, in my view, is better than none.”
Wise spoke in terms of collective impact when advocating for the donation.
“It’s quite true that a few tens of thousands of dollars on its own isn’t much, but it’s part of what all these other groups are doing. It adds up. It’s as if we gave someone several hundred thousands of dollars, which — while still small in the overall scheme of things — will still buy a piece of equipment or will buy a bunch of beds or something like that. It just demonstrates support.”
Schermerhorn cautioned that other counties were also hesitating and suggested they have similar concerns.
Isbester’s motion lost with Schermerhorn and Henry Hogg voting in favour. Helen Yanch, Smith, Wise, and Lowry defeated it.
Smith brought forward a subsequent motion to give $60,000, which he said split the difference between what Frontenac committed to and what Hastings had given in recent years. The recorded vote, requested by Schermerhorn, passed with the same split.
Following approval, councillors unanimously approved the 2018 budget. With additions of the $60,000 grant for UHKF and $15,000 for Lennox and Addington Seniors Outreach Services, director of financial and physical services Stephen Fox estimated the overall tax levy increase would land between 2.4 and 2.5 per cent. He told councillors he’d provide updated numbers at a March meeting.