Two-tier Region funding proposal blindsides WLMH fundraisers

By Mike Williscraft

NewsNow

Everything West Lincoln Memorial Hospital’s rebuild fundraising team thought they knew changed with an email Monday.

Ron Tripp, Niagara Region’s acting chief administrative officer, informed the group only 18 per cent of the local capital cost share for WLMH’s rebuild cost would come as a contribution.

Since the process started, local officials had been basing projections on the same 21 per cent support received by Niagara Health System’s St. Catharines site on Fourth Avenue.

To say the decision does not sit well with local officials would be an understatement.

“The piece that was not finalized until today is the recommended maximum Region share which is 18 per cent of the total local share,” Tripp informed local officials by email on Monday evening.

WLMH’s rebuild is currently budgeted at $200 million with $60 million of that required as the local share. The Fourth Avenue facility received $21 million of its initially projected $100 million local share, said Kurt Whitnell, co-chair of the rebuild fundraising campaign.

The difference between the 21 and 18 per cent now suggested by Tripp for WLMH is $1.8 million.

“We’ve moved mountains in the past two years. Never in my lifetime did I imagine that our local regional staff would stick it to us?” said Tony Joosse, co-chair of the Save WLMH  Action Committee.

Whitnell, said the constantly shifting goalposts are not appreciated.

“The process has gone from, ‘we’re looking forward to an equitable

funding for WLMH of $12.6 million at 21 per cent’ to ‘following extensive discussions with Niagara Region CAO Ron Tripp we are very disappointed to learn that they are proposing maximum support of $10.8 million or 18 per cent of our $60 million local share,” said Whitnell.

“This is not fair or equitable given the new St. Catharines hospital received 21 per cent of its local share from the Region. West Niagara is not being treated the same as other municipalities in the Region.”

The crux of the issue, said WLMH fundraising campaign chair Andrew Smith surrounds exactly what the Region’s input to St. Catharines was – $21 million or $25 million, and the actual funds which went into that site – $101.9 million or $116.9 million as Tripp contends.

For Smith, he said numbers can be cajoled any which way. He wants straight information applied.

“We’ve spent hundreds of hours on this file and the rules have changed several times,” said Smith.

For Joosse, if 18 per cent is the starting point, he is concerned regional officials could further reduce its support from there.

“With all the current challenges with health care and Niagara West leading the Region in growth, how and why are regional staff short-changing us?” Joosse asked rhetorically.

“What if they apply the questionable matrix to discount this amount further? Do we score 80 per cent, $8.64 million, or  90 per cent, $9.72 million.”

Joosse noted governments almost always work from precedents.

“There is a reason things get done the way they do. Niagara Region is always looking at other municipalities when the provincial or federal government hand out money,” said Joosse.

“They just want to be treated the same as other municipalities. That is the same for us here. We just want our fair share just as the Region would.”

The matter is to be formally presented to Niagara Region’s committee of the whole budget meeting on Thursday (today).

The recommendation will then go to full council on Jan. 21.

“I just want fairness for Niagara West. We deserve the 21 per cent. All we asked for is to be treated on the same level as St. Catharines. It is time for Niagara Region to step up,” said Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan.

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