Municipalities facing 1% hike in DSSAB levy

In a 6-4 vote, a budget of $19,851,785 for 2009 was approved by the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board last Thursday night.
“The overall budget increase . . . was 3.01 percent, but the municipal increase was only 1.06 percent,” Finance manager Leanne Eluik told the board.
“That is mainly due to the increase in the unincorporated assessment, and the province is picking up a bigger share this year,” she explained.
“I would prefer it to be a zero percent increase, but one percent, I guess, we can live with,” noted Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown, who voted to accept the budget.
But while the budget passed, board members expressed concerns over the feasibility of the increases given the current economic situation.
“It’s tough times right now,” noted Emo Coun. Gary Judson, who voted against the budget.
“The government people don’t seem to realize where the dollars are coming from and I think we’ve got to start realizing this,” he stressed. “That the guys who make the money and are paying the taxes, they’re the guys that pay all this stuff.”
Coun. Judson also noted that while it’s these people who are taking cuts, the local DSSAB has given out raises.
“I think that’s, for lack of a better word, terrible. I don’t think we’re concentrating enough on cutting stuff,” he argued.
Eluik pointed to five main reasons why the budget saw an increase for this year, including a three percent salary increase in the 2008-11 staff agreement.
As well, there is one-time funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services this year that must be matched by the DSSAB for mandatory training of “Ontario Works” administration staff.
The DSSAB also has seen an annual increase in administrative costs for child care, which ends up being covered by the municipalities. This stems from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which, with the exception of a few thousand dollars back in 2004, has not increased its funding for administration, Eluik noted.
While the DSSAB annually has requested more funding from the province to cover costs, she said they have been denied repeatedly with no reason given by the ministry.
“That’s just one . . . of the most perfect examples of integrated services,” noted DSSAB CAO Donna Dittaro. “I don’t know how the child care services would function without an integrated system because basically the other programs that we fund pick up the costs for child care.
“They don’t have the funds to put into administration, so the other programs have to support them.”
“Why [is the province] not increasing it, if everything else is going up?” wondered Rainy River Mayor Debbie Ewald. “It seems to me that perhaps all the DSSABs should be getting together and going after this because that’s way out of whack.”
Another increase comes from the required matching of provincial funding for land ambulance under the 50/50 cost share plan with the Ministry of Health.
While the province was ready to provide an extra $155,000 on top of fixed funding for this year, the DSSAB opted to only take and match $56,000 of that to meet the actual needs, Eluik explained.
Finally, the budget increase also comes from the capital funds needed for social housing units to ensure they are brought up to—and maintained at—appropriate standards.
Eluik did note there were some cost-savings reflected in the budget, such as Phase Two of the provincial upload for the Ontario Disability Support Program, which saw the program’s administration costs covered by the province.
As well, 2008 saw the end of the National Child Benefit Strategy.
Changes to the “Ontario Works” program and caseloads within the past year also have meant some cost-savings, Eluik added.
“[In] 2007, we saw extremely high caseloads, 2008, for whatever reason, we saw very low caseloads,” she noted. “[For] 2009, we sort of fit somewhere in the middle.”
Altogether, Eluik said the majority of the costs (62 percent) within the budget goes towards program expenses such as payment to service providers, payments to run the land ambulance program, and program services, which are considered “uncontrollable.”
“The next largest portion of our budget is staff salaries and benefits, including the paramedics,” she added. “And then the last, small 4.69 percent, the remaining portion of the budget is administrative costs for the programs.
“So that’s just your overall DSSAB admin, our office supplies, the stuff we control on a daily basis.”
For the 2009 budget apportionment, Alberton saw an increase from $240,023.80 to $256,838.47; Dawson’s increase was from $139,142.57 to $145,623.70; Emo’s increase was from $229,062.01 to $244,355.94; Fort Frances’ increase was from $1,987,603.55 to $2,008,148.64; Lake of the Woods’ increase was from $262,078.37 to $280,497.64; La Vallee’s increase was from $162,348.85 to 169,781.01; and Morley’s increase was from $95,075.58 to $97,748.39.
The unincorporated areas saw the largest increase (from $1,646,833.11 to $2,088,832.28).
The only areas to see a decrease were Atikokan, whose share went from $842,141.86 to $742,296.19, Chapple, which saw a decrease from $351,084.21 to $278,610.33, and Rainy River, with a small decrease of $115,113.59 to $114,823.58.
Chapple Coun. Peter Van Heyst expressed concerns over the increasing costs for the social housing. He also remarked that while the social housing budget report recommended putting $400,000 into reserve funds, this budget sees no money for that.
In the original housing budget, $100,000 had been earmarked to go into the reserves, Eluik noted, and this money came from surplus federal and provincial funds as part of the mortgage rollover funding.
“We had that money in this budget to put into capital reserves, that then could be restricted to anything that would need it for the housing.
“But that gave us a very large increase. Municipal share would have risen to almost 14 percent,” she noted. “We didn’t feel that was an acceptable option to bring to the board this year, so we took that reserve contribution out and we used that money to offset the municipal share.
“Which gives us the lower share for the housing budget.”
“It reduces our municipal expenses by not putting it in reserves,” Coun. Van Heyst agreed, “But we need money next year, and the year after.
It’s leading us down the wrong path, I think,” he warned.
“I don’t know that it’s leading us down the wrong path,” countered Mayor Ewald, who chairs the board’s social housing committee. “I think the problem has been that the work hasn’t been done previously, and once we get the housing stock up to the point where it’s just cycle maintenance, I think it’s going to be a lot less expensive in the long run.”
While Mayor Ewald said she was concerned over the growing budget for social housing, noting that last year it had been the largest increase for municipalities from the previous year, this is why they had chosen to offset the increase municipalities would face by utilizing funds for capital repairs instead of putting it into reserve funds.
“It would be different if you didn’t have anything to spend it on, but there’s lots of things to spend this on,” she stressed. “It’s not money that’s just being thrown out willy-nilly. It is going to the good of the whole program.”
Also at last Thursday night’s meeting, the DSSAB approved a motion to use reserve funds for renovation to the land ambulance base in Rainy River.
“The ambulance base in Rainy River is currently a one-bay garage,” noted Morley Reeve Gary Gamsby, who chairs the land ambulance committee. “This current situation means that one of the vehicles remains outside.
“When the ministry people came in to do a review, they identified that as an area of concern—that that second car should be inside so it’s ready to go in case of breakdown or an emergency, not just in Rainy River but if we need it in one of the other bases, too,” he remarked.
The DSSAB also approved a motion to support the Association of Municipal Emergency Medical Services of Ontario’s new emergency rankings and insignia designations.
“The financial impact will be positive because currently, as our own EMS, we have our own insignia, and we have to buy them in small numbers because we’re a small service,” Reeve Gamsby told the board.
“If this goes through, then they would be standardized across the country pretty well,” he noted. “It’s the buying power of hundreds of thousands compared to the few hundred we need.
“In the long run, it will cost us a lot less money.”
“Currently our epaulets are about $19 a pair,” explained Dan McCormick, manager of Health Services for the DSSAB.
“By buying provincially, it will be about $3 a pair,” he noted. “And we haven’t bought any for two years knowing that this step was coming.”