DSSAB passes budget, issues warning to province

The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board passed its 2005 budget last week, including a 10.38 percent municipal levy increase largely due to a funding shortage for the board’s land ambulance service.
“The DSSAB budget increases are primarily the result of uncontrollable increases in the costs to deliver land ambulance service,” said CAO Donna Dittaro.
As a result, the board passed two resolutions at a meeting here last Thursday night effectively putting the province on notice.
The first resolution petitioned Premier Dalton McGuinty and Health and Long-Term Care minister George Smitherman “to return the delivery of land ambulance services to the province at the earliest possible date.”
The second called on the premier and minister “to acknowledge the financial crisis created by the provincial government in the District of Rainy River, and to fulfill the provincial obligation of full 50 percent cost-sharing.
“And further be it resolved that should the province fail to provide funding to sustain the existing levels of service by May 31, 2005, the RRDSSAB will be forced to take steps, effective June 30, 2005, to reduce land ambulance service to affordable levels, effective Jan. 1, 2006.”
The DSSAB cited rapidly-increasing costs to deliver the service and the ministry’s failure provide adequate funding as reasons for the two resolutions.
“The views and impacts on small northern service managers are not always shared or the same as our larger counterparts,” it noted.
“The funding of land ambulance services across the province is becoming increasingly inequitable, as we compare service for small, rural service managers, particularly those in Northern Ontario, to our larger counterparts.”
The board also noted the ministry only is paying about 30 percent of the cost of the service, “and is contributing less each subsequent year,” when it had agreed in 2001 that the cost would be split 50/50.
In fact, the costs for the service have more than doubled in Rainy River District since that year.
For example, paramedic wages will have increased about 32 percent over the last four years—from $20.20 per hour in 2001 to an expected $27 per hour in 2005.
This increase has occurred since the service was transferred from the province to municipalities, but the province does not cover wage increases over one percent.
“These eight percent annual increases are currently being funded at the expense of the municipal taxpayers,” Dittaro said.
“At the present time, the province owes the RRDSSAB approximately $730,000 to cover their share of total ambulance costs,” she added. “Of that amount, approximately $645,000 is directly attributed to arbitrated wage settlements for paramedics in the district.”
As reported last week, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care released it funding for land ambulance service to DSSABs across the province earlier this month.
The local DSSAB received $52,228—less than one-10th of the $537,000 it had requested for the replacement of ambulances, stretchers, and other necessities.
The board noted the ministry also has failed to contribute to the rising operating costs of land ambulance such as fuel or utilities.
“Loss of services, reductions in staff, and a decrease in the quality of services may be the result of unfunded costs,” the board warned in a press release issued Friday.
“Larger centres can obviously absorb these increases at a much lower cost, given their larger tax bases,” it added. “The impact in the Rainy River District is much greater.”
“The issue is not just about money,” said Emo Reeve Russ Fortier, who chairs the DSSAB. “Every dollar not funded may result in a cut to service either within land ambulance or a service within a municipality.”
The DSSAB continues to lobby the province to resolve the issue.
“The DSSAB has not left any stone unturned,” Reeve Fortier stressed. “We have cut our administration and reduced in every way we possibly can. The solution is simple—it’s time for the province to pay their share.”
Dittaro noted the 10.38 percent increase in the municipal levy for 2005 also contains a carry-over from the 2004 budget.
“The actual increase for 2005 was 2.37 percent, however, there was a carryover of [about eight percent] from 2004 which had been offset by $409,250 in DSSAB surplus funds last year,” she said.
“Unfortunately, this year, the total cost must be recovered directly from the municipalities,” Dittaro added.
While this is a common occurrence among Ontario DSSABs, 2004 was the first year the local board was able to offer this break to municipalities, she noted.