Health unit nearly balances budget prior to new year

By Stephen Petrick
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit will have an almost balanced budget as it moves into a new fiscal year.
It’s a positive sign for an institution which bore a heavy responsibility for guiding people through the pandemic and will have the daunting task of resuming halted services while still managing COVID-19 over the next 12 months.
The health unit’s finances were discussed at the Thursday, Feb. 17 virtual board meeting and documents showed the unit spent $22,941,081 in 2021, representing an excess of $669 from its budget allotment of $22,940,412.
“We couldn’t get any closer if we tried,” said the health unit’s director Angela Vickery.
“Does anyone want to chastise Angela on being overspent by $700 … on $22 million?” said board chair Doug Elmslie, tongue-in-cheek. “I think that’s a pretty good record,” he added.

Of the roughly $22 million, about $510,000 came from Haliburton County taxpayers and about $11.9 million comes from provincial taxes. The unit also received an additional $773,300 in “mitigation” funding from the province. That money is being given to help the health unit transition to a new funding formula, in which municipalities will be asked to provide 30 per cent of health unit’s expenses, up from the previous mark of 25 per cent.
The health unit’s board is made up of elected officials from the municipalities the unit represents. Some of them expressed concern about the new funding formula and wondered if mitigation funding will continue down the road.

Vickery said those concerns were “reasonable” but there’s no indication on what will happen long-term.
“We are anticipating a slight increase in funding for 2022, but we haven’t seen anything yet,” Vickery said.
Dysart et al mayor and health unit board member Andrea Roberts noted that, with a provincial election coming in June, there’s not likely to be any new directions and the board will have to advocate for the health unit when a new government is in place.

Some lines in the budget report showed just how extraordinary 2021 was for public health spending.
The health unit spent every dollar of the $1,004,500 it was given for its COVID-19 vaccine program. Another line showed that the unit spent every dollar of $1,230,000 budgeted for “COVID-19 Extraordinary Costs.”
Meanwhile there were literally zero dollars spent on programs related to the “Social Determinants of Health, the Electronic Cigarettes Act, Vector-Borne Diseases, Small Drinking Water Systems” and a “Food Premise Report.”