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Health unit may see final payments

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March could be the final payment district municipalities make to the Northwestern Health Unit until the provincial government provides actual “download” numbers.

That’s something the Rainy River District Municipal Association will be voting on Monday when it meets here to put together a proposal for a District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB).

Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who is president of the RRDMA this year, said the issue arose Monday during a phone call with Dryden Mayor Roger Valley, president of the Kenora District Municipal Association, who was in Toronto meeting with Northern Development and Mines minister Chris Hodgson.

With the KDMA ready to tell the minister it wasn’t paying the health unit bill past March until it received “Who Does What” cash flow answers, Mayor Witherspoon told Mayor Valley to say he also had the support of the RRDMA.

With that, Mayor Witherspoon said the municipal associations have started putting more pressure on the province to provide some answers.

“That was the message delivered to the minister [Monday]," he said, adding he didn’t know what Hodgson’s reaction was. "We’re being used, to a degree, by the province and hopefully, this will bring it to a head.”

Mayor Valley could not be reached as of press time.

But some Fort Frances councillors weren’t sure it was a wise move.

“Are we committed as a council not to pay that bill at the end of March?” asked Coun. Struchan Gilson.

And Coun. Bill Martin, the town’s rep on the health unit board, questioned what the ramifications of that would be under the current legislation.

He noted the new mandatory programs were out, with the health unit claiming it would need another $500,000 to meet those minimum requirements.

And the health unit said municipalities don’t have the option to withhold payment until it gets answers.

“I hope they have good lawyers because, legally, they are obligated to pay,” warned Dr. Pete Sarsfield, the medical officer of health.

He also wondered where the municipalities expected the health unit to come up with the dollars to pay its bills.

Mayor Witherspoon stressed they wanted make sure the public health of citizens was protected. But he also noted municipalities wanted a say as to how the dollars were spent.

“I’m wondering, Mr. Mayor, if we can seek our own legal opinion on the matter,” suggested Coun. Sharon Tibbs.

CAO Bill Naturkach said the town was still waiting for answers from the province regarding the unincorporated areas and First Nations levies, which it requested back in November.

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