County to adopt one-per-cent tax levy to fund $4.5-million hospital contribution

(Gazette file photo)

Ratepayers will see pledge as a separate item on tax bills



Prince Edward County ratepayers will see their direct contributions to the municipality’s $4.5 million commitment to a new hospital on their 2019 tax bills.

Inheriting a decision from the previous council to increase municipal contributions to the community’s $16.5-million share of the new hospital build, councillors elected to adopt a one-per-cent levy on the total tax bill annually until the money is paid.

Chief administrative officer James Hepburn had initially recommended that council contribute $312,000 annually over 15 years in its operating budget into a dedicated reserve fund to finance the contribution. Any unfinanced money at the time the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation needed to draw on the funds could be borrowed through Infrastructure Ontario when required. At present, the timelines provided to the municipality by the Quinte Healthcare Corporation suggest that could be in 2023.

Athol councillor Jamie Forrester said purely for optics, he’d like to see the contribution expressed on the tax bill as a a separate tax levy, rather than a line item buried in the budget.

Hepburn said he provided the previous council two options last June when it bumped up its contributions from $1.25 million over 10 years to $4.5 million over 15. One was a line item and the second was a percentage capital contribution. He told councillors that expressed as a line item, the $311,869 would amount to about 0.88 per cent of the draft budget. The one-per-cent direct levy option would give in the neighbourhood of $370,000, based on initial budget estimates. That could allow the municipality to pay the bill in a shorter amount of time.

While Sophiasburgh’s Bill Roberts said he was supportive of Forrester’s approach, he asked if the foundation was comfortable with the change as presented. Hepburn indicated he believed they were and noted the foundation’s executive director, Shannon Coull, was present at the budget meeting.

He said there was still some ongoing dialogue between the municipality and the foundation as the initial agreement would have seen the County supply all its funding as construction started, but there has since been some talk that a substantial amount of pledges might need to be in a bank account earlier to satisfy the provincial ministries overseeing the build.

“Dealings with the ministry have been a bit of a moving target,” Hepburn explained. “If the campaign is successful with the public moving forward, maybe the amount we have to contribute to top it up can be less, or if not successful, more. There may be an earlier transfer than in 2023, but that would be the only difference in what we had previously talked about.”

Satisfied, Roberts said he’s hopeful the municipality and foundation continue to work together well.

“I see the new hospital as an essential piece of our county infrastructure for a whole bunch of reasons. A really important component of success is excellent communications between Shire Hall and the foundation. Going forward, I would encourage us to do that.”

Ameliasburgh’s Janice Maynard asked about ways council could easily communicate the levy to taxpayers. Hepburn said the municipality could include a flyer or leaflet to explain how the commitment will be financed.

Councillors unanimously approved the one-per-cent annual levy. They also approved advancing $128,000 from the hospital construction reserve fund to assist the foundation with expenses related to its Back The Build campaign. The reserve had $228,000 in it going into this year. Hepburn said those monies would also be included in the $4.5-million commitment.