Why Guelph fights the proposed Public Health HQ

It all started when the Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph Public Health unit announced it had cut a deal to build a $17 million facility on University of Guelph leased land on Stone Road.

The health unit is a consortium of the three municipalities, Dufferin and Wellington counties and Guelph. About 59 per cent of capital and a portion of operating costs are paid by Guelph taxpayers. The Provincial government picks up a 45 per cent share of the operating costs.

First some background. The proposal includes a facility to be built in Orangeville to service the northeast area of the health unit’s catchment area.

Mayor Karen Farbridge and two other members of council served on the Joint Public Health board administered by the County of Wellington. When the joint board approved the proposal last year it is reported that Guelph’s representatives were present.

The Province, through Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, has stated it would not contribute to the capital costs generated by the Public Health board. Ms. Sandals has criticized the city’s determination to get out of the present arrangement and operate its own public health system.

Here are some questions:

Did the Mayor and her fellow board members understand and acknowledge the need for a new Public Health office in Guelph and one in Orangeville?

Why did the public health administrators strike a deal with the University on Stone Road before there was agreement to proceed? Or was there?

Was this a terrible failure to communicate on the part of the partners and health board administrators?

Why is Guelph seeking a permanent injunction preventing the Board  of Public Health to build a permanent home for the Public Health authority?

The answer is simple: It’s about the money. Guelph’s finances are so tight that it cannot afford to spend $10 million on the proposed facility or any other capital project such as the downtown library and Wilson Street parkade.

The city is living operating on tax payment cash flow and the Mayor has already stated that it will need to dip into the tax stabilization reserve fund when the 2012 budget is created.

A series of unintended consequences has put the city in a dire financial position.  These include the city’s maxed out debt ceiling has; cost overruns on the museum/convent project; major pending lawsuits involving Wellington County, the merchants on Carden Street and the original contractor of the new City Hall.

The only way out of the fiscal bind is to raise revenues and cut costs.

Yeah! Like that’s going to happen.

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