Muskoka District Council has pledged to provide $77.3 million dollars in funding for multi-hospital redevelopment.
The decision confirmed that District funds would be generated for the redevelopment of one hospital site in Huntsville and one in Bracebridge. The $77.3 million pledged by the district for 2037 adds the local share contribution total of 225 million dollars for the project. Other funding sources include the municipalities of Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and East Parry Sound as well as Muskoka Algonquin Health Care, the Huntsville Hospital Foundation and the South Muskoka Hospital Foundation.
District councillors stated that the hospital developments presented an opportunity to improve healthcare services in Muskoka. Councillor Rick Maloney stated that the new hospitals would allow for flexibility to optimize service delivery for current and future healthcare needs.
“We’re at the point where we can move healthcare forward into the 21st century,” Maloney said.
Despite the healthcare benefits, several councillors raised concerns over the high price tag. Councillor Guy Burry stated that healthcare costs should be primarily borne by the province, rather than municipalities.
“Let’s be clear that healthcare is the responsibility of the province, and our small population is increasingly feeling the pressures of provincial downloading. I believe it’s fiscally irresponsible to put this much on the levy, on the District taxpayers,” Burry said.
The local share is a pooling of municipal resources to pay for the hospital projects. Presently, the provincial government is slated to pay for 90 per cent of the project costs, this totals $742 million. The municipality must pay for the remaining 10 per cent, although this percentage may increase. According District Chief Administrative Officer Julie Stevens, the 10 per cent responsibility does not include all hospitals, which could increase significantly.
To pay for the large local share contribution the District approved new taxes. First was an increase on properties valued above $300,000 dollars, second was an increase on properties valued above $1 million dollars, and third was the establishment of a new tax directly to fund healthcare costs related to the local share contribution. District Chair Jeff Lehman stated that it must be understood that these new tax measures would be what is making up the local share contribution.
“It’s really the people of Muskoka that are doing this and the reason I say that is because today’s decision is about putting a small amount each year on the tax bill which will certainly add up,” Lehman said.
Despite the significant financial burden, councillors stated that the new hospitals were needed in Muskoka. Statistics provided by MAHC showed that currently, hospitals in the district are at well over 100 per cent capacity. Councillor Nancy Alcock spoke about the poor condition of the current facilities and the need for investment.
“We all recognized that we needed to replace our hospitals. They’re both old, dated, they’re not efficient, and they don’t meet all of the needs that we currently face, and we will face in the future,” Alcock said.
The new hospital developments have created a debate around the equity of healthcare funding in Muskoka. At the September District Health Services Committee meeting several councillors expressed displeasure with their residents being asked to pay for hospitals which they will not use. Statistics show that the two new hospitals will be the primary hospitals for 85 per cent of residents within the district. An amendment was added to the proposal which set aside just over 13 per cent of the local share costs for the other 15 per cent of residents, and the facilities they use.
District Council approval of its portion of the local share contribution was the final element of the overall $225 million dollars required for the development. The completion of this phase will allow for the projects to move into the next phase of development with construction slated to begin in 2029.
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