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'Inequity or dysfunction,' mayors scrutinize homeless supports

During county budget discussions, Midland Mayor asks why shelter guests are turned out onto the street every morning at 7
2022-05-30 Simcoe County RB
Simcoe County administration building.

Midland Mayor Bill Gordon wants to know why people who were using the homeless shelter in Midland had to leave each morning. 

“Our Midland shelter is a 24/7 operation, but apparently they’re lacking funding for any day staffing,” Gordon said during the latest round of county budget discussions. “Our shelter guests are turned out on the street every day at 7 a.m.”

Gordon noted he wasn’t able to find a breakdown of how much funding the county provides to each shelter in the budget.

“I’d like to understand, year over year, where the money is being spent. My concern is, if we are funding shelters properly, and (if) they’re using the money wisely,” said Gordon.

During the Jan. 10 budget meeting, which stretched on for six hours, other county councillors added their concerns to Gordon's, stating their local shelters are under-funded and not meeting the needs in the community. 

Collingwood's Mayor Yvonne Hamlin brought up a drug overdose emergency at Collingwood Library last month to illustrate a point about a shortfall in funding for housing and shelter supports. 

Hamlin noted there are homelessness encampments set up on the outskirts of town and more residents experiencing homelessness who have been sleeping in downtown alleys and alcoves. 

“We’re hearing more and more from our residents that they want us to make a dent in how we’re handling this,” she said, noting there had been an overdose at the Collingwood Public Library in December.

She asked whether there should be discussions occurring on whether there is a need for the west end of Simcoe County to have a supervised consumption site.

General Manager of Social and Community Services Greg Bishop said there was a challenge across the sector with recruitment and retention of staff that also contributes to changes in operating hours for area shelters.

“Sometimes it’s not a matter of the available funding,” he said.

Gordon said he would take further conversation regarding the matter offline with county staff.

“I’d like to take a deeper dive into what appears to be either a deep funding inequity or deep dysfunction in the operation of our shelter. I can’t imagine it’s limited to just us,” he said.

In November 2022, the former county council rubber stamped their endorsement of the 2023 County of Simcoe draft budget, recommending a 3.5 per cent increase for the taxpayer – the largest year-over-year increase proposed at the county level in more than five years.

On Tuesday morning, the new council went over the work done on the $701-million operating and capital budget by the last council, while bringing fresh concerns they heard while campaigning to the table for consideration.

“It is clear that this will be a challenging budget,” new Warden Basil Clarke said in an emailed statement following the meeting.

“We face rising supplier costs and inflation rates, reduced funding through Bill 23 and increased demand for services, however; we know that residents want to see us continue to deliver a responsible budget with careful thought given to the fiscal pressures that our households are feeling,” he said.

During the presentation and discussion on Tuesday, many issues were raised by councillors that would impact the budget including whether fleet acquisitions that could be deferred to future budgets, opportunities to address staffing additions and further support for COVID recovery for the tourism sector.

Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall raised concerns about Barrie’s $6.6 million contribution to the county for long-term care. The county oversees four long-term care homes across Simcoe County: Sunset Manor in Collingwood, Trillium Manor in Orillia, Georgian Manor in Penetanguishene and Simcoe Manor in Beeton.

“We have about 10 (Barrie) people in (county) long-term care,” said Nuttall. “I’d love to see some of these long-term care services in the City of Barrie.”

The 2023 budget includes funds for continued investment in three major affordable housing developments in Barrie, Orillia and Bradford West Gwillimbury and the addition of more than 22 new full-time, permanent staff positions.

Earlier in August 2022, General Manager of Corporate Performance Trevor Wilcox warned county councillors that the 2023 budget would come in with a higher tax levy than normal. Some of the increases expected to expenses at the county level at that time included an 18-per-cent rise in insurance rates, 12-per-cent jump in natural gas costs, three per cent more for electricity and water and Ontario Works caseloads expected to rise.

Since at least 2016, the County of Simcoe tax levy increase year-over-year was kept at two per cent with two exceptions: in 2018 it came in at one per cent, and in 2021, there was no increase.

Staff are proposing 22.4 new full-time equivalent positions be added in 2023.

New positions would include a part-time museum summer student, a tourism program supervisor, an asset management supervisor, human resources strategic business partner, a real estate coordinator, an occupational health and safety nurse, six paramedic staff, a part-time social worker, 1.6 recreation therapists, a building superintendent, a housing clerk, a tenant navigator, a junior facilities engineer, 3.5 new solid waste management staff and a senior planning project manager.

The 2023 draft budget, containing operating and capital expenditures, can be further broken down as follows:

  • Paramedic Services – $67.5 million
  • Senior Services – $10.2 million
  • Long-term care – Homes - $111.2 million
  • Transportation and engineering – $76.6 million
  • Solid Waste Management – $84.8 million
  • Children’s Services – $79.2 million
  • Community Services – $19.3 million
  • Ontario Works – $70 million
  • Social housing – $90.8 million
  • General municipal services - $32.9 million
  • Other departments - $58.7 million

Figures provided represent the amount in the 2023 budget for these projects, not the entire projected cost, which, in many cases, is spread out over multiple budget years.

There are three major affordable housing developments included in next year’s budget, including one each in the City of Orillia ($21.3 million), the City of Barrie ($1.8 million) and the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury ($15.3 million).

There are funds allocated for the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport strategic plan and the redevelopment of Simcoe Village in Beeton.

Major road construction projects this year include Simcoe County Road 4 in Bradford West Gwillimbury/Innisfil and County Road 21 through Baxter with related road, bridge, and intersection components.

Paramedic Services forecasts are calling for volume growth to be 5.7 per cent in 2023, which will come with an overall price tag of $59.8 million. Salaries and benefits account for $49.3 million of that.

Barrie and Orillia residents do not pay taxes at the county level, as they are separated cities. Instead, the two municipalities allocate a specific amount in their own budgets to pay for the use of some county services and capital project costs.

For the City of Barrie, its contribution will come with a price tag of $32.6 million for 2023, an increase of 11.6 per cent over 2022 budget numbers.

For the City of Orillia, its contribution will come with a price tag of $9.2 million for 2023, an increase of 11.3 per cent over 2022.

No motions were brought forward or decisions made regarding the budget at the Jan. 10 meeting. County council will next consider the 2023 budget at their Jan. 31 joint council and committee of the whole meeting.

Where do your county tax dollars go?

For every $100,000 of MPAC assessment on a home in Simcoe County, the taxpayer would pay $288.80 in 2023 in county taxes, should the budget be adopted. Here’s what each service would receive as part of that levy:

  • Paramedic services - $33.16
  • Long-term care - $17.64
  • Ontario Works - $6.91
  • Children Services - $4.52
  • Community Services - $4.10
  • Social Housing - $30.86
  • Transportation and Engineering - $32.18
  • Solid Waste Management - $85.82
  • Planning – $4.48
  • Economic development - $4.85
  • Transit - $6.36
  • Administrative support - $15.87
  • General Municipal Services - $20.89
  • Contribution to infrastructure and asset management - $21.16

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 13 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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