DSSAB may face funding shortfall

The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board is expecting to lose about $397,000 in funding from Atikokan after that town’s coal-fired generating station closes in 2007—a sum that will have to be recouped by other district municipalities.
The figure was brought forward at the board’s regular monthly meeting last week in an effort to prepare for the impact of the plant’s closure.
Since the provincial government announced its plan last month to eliminate coal-fired power generation in Ontario, a committee of representatives from 14 ministries have committed to working with Atikokan to prevent economic collapse.
Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale said any relief funding provided by the province should include the $397,000 the DSSAB will lose due to the drop in Atikokan’s assessment.
“We should be compensated,” she said via a teleconference call during last Thursday’s meeting.
Lake of the Woods Mayor Valerie Pizey said the message should come from municipal councils across the district—not just the DSSAB.
“My council’s already begun talking about it and planning for it,” noted La Vallee Reeve Emily Watson.
Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown, who also sits on the DSSAB, has called the decision to close the plant “devastating.” Nearly half the taxes the town collects are from the generating station.
However, the Atikokan Progress recently reported the Ministry of Natural Resources will hire an external advisor to examine viable alternatives to coal for the generating station, including bio-energy from wood waste and peat.
Also at last Thursday’s DSSAB meeting, the board discussed a letter from Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls Mayor Jerry O’Leary regarding the township looking into the possibility of switching from the Kenora District Services Board to the Rainy River DSSAB.
Mayor O’Leary is concerned his township is paying more than its fair share for social services. The KDSB’s funding formula is based on property assessment of member municipalities.
Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls has a small population compared to other municipalities covered by that board, but has a high property assessment due to its many valuable lakefront properties.
Mayor O’Leary said he has asked the KDSB to consider a funding formula based on population rather than assessment. The township makes up less than one percent of the population of the area the board serves, but currently contributes about 5.5 percent of its funding.
The local DSSAB uses a similar formula based on weighted assessments.
“I don’t think we can offer him [Mayor O’Leary] any more than the Kenora DSB does,” said DSSAB chair Russ Fortier, who also is reeve of Emo. “His issue is to get away from assessment and go to per capita.”
“We’re not going to go there, either,” Mayor Pizey noted.
She said Lake of the Woods suffers the same problem as Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls—being a community with a small population but high property value.
“How many times have I sat here and said the same thing?” she said.
Michael Lewis, who represents the unincorporated areas of Rainy River District East, noted the decision on a transfer would not be up to Mayor O’Leary or the local DSSAB, but rather the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Also last Thursday, the DSSAB voted to transfer $100,000 to the land ambulance sick leave reserve.
“Sick leave has increased substantially over what we anticipated for the last six to eight months,” Finance manager Leanne Eluik explained to the board. “We’re looking to top it up now instead of building it all up in our next budget.”
The DSSAB budgets for land ambulance sick leave based on what has been paid out in previous years.
It paid out about $50,000 in sick leave pay in 2004 and about $25,000 in 2003. But so far in 2005, the board has paid out more than $60,000 in 2005.
And with five more months still left in the year, the board could be looking at even higher costs.
“There’s still a risk that further submissions could be coming in. It’s an uncontrolled cost,” noted Health Services manager Dan McCormick.
Board members expressed concern at the high rate of sick leave.
“I check on each individual who is reported. They’ve all been valid claims,” said McCormick, noting most sick leave claims have been due to off-the-job injuries.
Some members wondered whether it wouldn’t be more economical to go with an insurance company, rather than to include the costs in DSSAB’s budget.
Reeve Fortier noted this issue came up at the board in the past. “You had a chance to debate that and you approved what we’re doing for this year,” he noted.
Meanwhile, as reported in last week’s Times, the DSSAB is still awaiting word from the ministry regarding funding for the land ambulance program here.
The board has accused the province of paying less than its share of the costs for the program—leaving district municipalities to make up the difference.
The two sides are in negotiations, with a announcement expected before Aug. 30, at which time the DSSAB has warned it will have to take steps “to reduce land ambulance service to affordable levels.”