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Province needs to pay its bills for land ambulance

Open Letter
Dear premier Eves:
I am writing, at the request of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, to bring your attention to a matter seriously affecting all municipal taxpayers in the Rainy River District.
As you are aware, District Social Service Administration Boards or DSSAB’s were created to administer services devolved from the province to the municipalities, as part of local services realignment. To date, the Rainy River DSSAB is responsible for Ontario Works, Child Care, Social Housing, and Land Ambulance.
We wish to commend the Ministries of Community, Family & Children’s Services, and Municipal Affairs & Housing for their cooperation and full sharing of responsibility with the District municipalities. On the other hand, the Rainy River DSSAB wishes to express its sheer frustration in dealing with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, their blatant disregard of provincial legislation and shirking of responsibility.
The Rainy River DSSAB consists of ten municipalities and three territories without municipal organization (unincorporated areas). The DSSAB, as designated Service Manager, has the right to recover the costs of land ambulance services, under provincial rules. The DSSAB can allocate costs to the municipalities and unincorporated areas in a manner other than that described in legislation, provided that the majority of municipalities and unincorporated members consent to do so, and that those consenting represent a majority of the electors in the Board’s District. The Rainy River DSSAB has developed an apportionment method and has submitted proof of majority support to the Ministry of Health on more than one occasion.
In our District, the unincorporated share represents over 17% of the costs for the transferred services. As the Province is accountable for paying the unincorporated share, we merely bill the Ministries responsible for Ontario Works, Child Care and Social Housing, and the bill is paid. Not so with Land Ambulance. The Health Ministry has chosen instead to include the unincorporated share as part of their funding template which only serves to complicate an already complicated issue. Alternatively, it is our contention that we would submit a bill for the unincorporated share of land ambulance and the bill would be paid. Simple process. Simple solution.
Since 2001, this DSSAB has been advocating unsuccessfully with the Province to have the unincorporated share paid. We have corresponded and met repeatedly with the Ministry’s Regional and Corporate staff, and the Minister’s Office. In June of this year, members of our staff and Board were asked to meet with even more Ministry staff and Policy Advisors to present our case (not a small expense). At that time, we were told that the Ministry would consider honouring our 2003 request, but would not commit to the amount owing for the 2001 and 2002 fiscal years. This is totally unacceptable to the taxpayers in this District.
The DSSAB would not allow a municipality to say “sorry, no money, we can’t pay” which is exactly the story being told by the Province. This is your legislation, your downloading, your rules. To date, there has been brazen indifference for this issue. It has been simply dismissed and reflects very poorly on the current government.
By year end, the Province will owe our DSSAB over $1.3 million for the unincorporated area (not including interest) - to put the amount into context, this represents about one-third of our total annualized land ambulance budget.
The people of the Rainy River District are well aware of this situation. District newspapers and radio have kept the public informed. Municipal leaders have been discussing this issue and have supported the DSSAB, since the issue was brought to their attention two years ago.
Initially, the Rainy River DSSAB was able to offset the default in payment with an accrued surplus of the municipal portion from the other transferred programs. This is no longer possible and we are now in a position which forces us to look to the municipal taxpayer to bail us out of the mess created by your Ministry of Health.
The Rainy River DSSAB represents a large geographical area and any cuts to service resulting from the Province’s failure to pay could be detrimental. Given the size of our area and our limited resources, we have to work very hard to maintain legislated standards. Ambulance staff are already stretched beyond reasonable limit.
Members of the Northern Ontario Service Deliverer’s Association (NOSDA), which represents all Northern DSSAB’s and the City of Greater Sudbury and District of Muskoka, were advised by a Ministry staff member that the Province would be making an announcement after October 2nd regarding the unincorporated share owing. The term “announcement” usually refers to circumstances whereby an organization such as the Rainy River DSSAB would be requesting special or additional monies. This is not the case. Rather, this so-called announcement will simply report to the public whether the Province is willing to pay its bills or not.
Municipalities in this District are upset. Taxpayers in this District are upset. With an impending election upon us, this issue is in the forefront of many people’s minds. Many find the Province’s inability to pay its bill fairly hard to swallow, when the idea of a significant wage hike for provincial politicians is being considered. This is a huge issue in Northwestern Ontario and requires immediate attention - we have been waiting for too long. To ignore the issue will not make it go away.
Donna Diattaro, Chief Administrative Officer
Rainy River DSSAB