FORT FRANCES—The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board passed its draft budget for 2007 last week, which included a 2.93 percent increase in the levy to municipalities.
The jump is attributed largely to the “Ontario Works” program, which has seen a large increase in demand in the last year.
“Our district saw the highest increase in caseloads in ‘Ontario Works’ than any other place in Ontario,” said DSSAB CAO Donna Dittaro, who added the rise cannot be attributed to one cause.
“It’s not really related to anything in particular,” she remarked.
Many new people seeking work appear to have moved to the district from other parts of the province or the country.
And many of those are considered “hard to serve” by provincial standards, meaning they don’t have a high school diploma.
The first thing caseworkers do in that case is encourage them to get their diploma since that is a major barrier to employment.
The problem is compounded by the fact the “Ontario Works” funding from the province is determined, to some extent, by how successful the DSSAB is in finding employment for its clients.
“How do you place people in jobs when there ain’t no jobs?” asked Lake of the Woods Mayor Val Pizey, who also is vice-chair of the DSSAB.
“We really need to voice our dissatisfaction with how ‘Ontario Works’ is run,” said Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown.
The caseload increase in 2006 created an 18.98 jump to the municipal share for “Ontario Works” alone in DSSAB’s 2007 budget.
But through careful budgeting, DSSAB was able to keep the municipal levy hike to less than three percent.
“I was really pleased with the budget,” Dittaro said.
Having assumed control of the delivery of land ambulance services back on Jan. 1, DSSAB was able to save $100,000 in administrative costs for 2007.
These and other savings will allow DSSAB to pay off the two new land ambulance buildings being renovated in Fort Frances and Emo.
These projects are being paid for out of reserves for now, but the board has a three-year plan to return that money.
The board originally had budgeted for a 10-year repayment plan, Dittaro noted.
Also at last Thursday’s meeting, DSSAB discussed the possibility of changing the apportionment schedule for district municipalities. Smaller townships like Chapple and Lake of the Woods feel they are paying too much.
The apportionment schedule is what decides how municipalities are billed by DSSAB, and it can be based on property assessments, population, or other criteria.
Chapple Reeve Peter Van Heyst put forth a notice of motion for DSSAB’s March meeting to encourage the board to review the apportionment schedule for the 2008 budget.