Health unit levy takes big jump

As Fort Frances struggles with its 2004 budget, the Northwestern Health Unit is asking the town to foot a 36 percent hike in its per capita levy this year.
Council received notice at its regular meeting Monday night that at the Jan. 15 meeting of the health unit’s board, it projected “a substantial and necessary budget increase” in order to move toward compliance with mandatory programming as set by the province.
At that time, the obligatory per capita levy for 2004 was approved and set at $50 per capita—36 percent more than the $36.75 per capita the town paid in 2003.
This would total about $415,650, or $50 multiplied by the town’s population (8,313).
“The board of health for the Northwestern Health Unit recognizes and empathizes with the financial constraints and realities facing regional municipalities, but has an obligation to promote and protect the health of our citizens,” read a letter from board chair John Albanese and Dr. Pete Sarsfield, the health unit’s CEO and medical officer of health.
Dr. Sarsfield had said in late December that a levy hike was certainly in the cards.
“We took a look at recent levy increases at all 37 health units across Ontario and the Northwestern Health Unit was the lowest,” he said at that time.
“In Sudbury, they had a 27 percent increase in January, 2002 and then another five percent in January, 2003—that’s 33 percent in one year.
“It’s inevitable there’s going to be a levy increase,” Dr. Sarsfield had remarked last month. “It’s that, or accept that we’ll keep on having the lowest life expectancy rate around.”
Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk, who sits on the health board, told council the health unit had wanted to raise the levy by a large degree last year, but ended up only hiking it five percent in hopes more provincial funding would come through.
He also noted none of the money from the 36 percent levy hike will go towards legal costs for the health unit’s battle—spearheaded by Dr. Sarsfield—to ban smoking in all enclosed public places in the Kenora and Rainy River districts, adding he would not have supported the hike if it did.
Council referred this matter to the Administration and Finance executive committee for a recommendation.
(Fort Frances Times)