WLMH rebuild garners $12.6 million Region support

By Mike Williscraft

With Lincoln Reg. Coun. Rob Foster in the lead-off position and Grimsby Mayor hitting clean up, Niagara West officials got 21 per cent – $12.6 million – in financial support for West Lincoln Memorial Hospital’s rebuild across the plate last Thursday.

Niagara West officials pushed for the same 21 per cent of the local share of its hospital’s capital cost, the same as St. Catharines received in 2007.

That level of funding was called into question when regional staff recommended 18 per cent be the funding ceiling and then WLMH would have to be run through a newly designed scoring matrix.

The matrix would have only recommended 84 per cent of the 18 per cent proposed maximum, $9.07 million.

During debate on the matrix, Foster said something was “missing” from the formula, adding there was no consideration for a rural hospital versus a “big city” hospital.

“A number of the questions don’t apply in the more rural setting,” Foster noted.

“I don’t see where the differences come into play. It seems it is some punishment to Grimsby, possibly for not doing their Secondary plan around the hospital.”

Niagara Region’s acting CAO Ron Tripp said staff and consultant Erin O’Hoski worked as quickly as possible to prepare the report for the committee of the whole budget session.

“We’ve done everything we can to meet this timeline,” said Tripp.

Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton said factors other than straight statistics, however, should also be considered.

She said regional officials should not look at ways “out of funding”.

“Good will has to play a part in it,” said Easton, when looking after the health and well being of our community.

Both Tripp and Todd Harrison, commissioner of corporate services, insisted the St. Catharines build got an 18 per cent contribution from Niagara Region – $21 million on its $116.9 million local share.

However, Jordan stepped up to the plate for Niagara West to show otherwise.

Jordan noted the regional benchmark was established when $21 million was approved by council on a then-local share set at $100 million – 21 per cent.

There was no dispute that the St. Catharines local share escalated to $116.9 after that, but with Region’s commitment not changing, that is what reduced the contribution to 18 per cent, not the initial commitment.

“West Lincoln Memorial is at the same point,” said Jordan of 21 per cent contributed to St. Catharines.

“To be equitable the same 21 per cent should apply in this case.”

Jordan added the scoring matrix “may work down the road, but scoring and flaws in it are too great in my mind.”

While much of the debate was very supportive of Niagara West representation’s stance, there was opposition, both to the $12.6 million ask and the ignoring of the new matrix formula.

Pelham Reg. Coun. Diana Huson said she was frustrated by the process and wished the funding matrix had been in place for St. Catharines in 2007.

She noted corporate services was tasked with coming up with a funding model and they “landed on this model”.

“If we don’t like the number, we can’t just throw it out.”

Pelham Mayor Marv Junkin seemed to encapsulate the opinion of most on regional council, noting Niagara West had essentially served its time and was deserving of the 21 per cent support WLMH supporters suggested.

“We have to use a number. We choose a number that is agreeable to the majority of us,” said Junkin.

“You can’t tell me people of this region don’t believe in hospitals. I think of the Region as a whole over 20 years. They (Niagara West residents) have carried the torch and it’s time this council…we’ve got to grab the ball here. What are the residents comfortable with and get on with it. The people of West Niagara deserve that.”

Voting in favour of the $12.6 million funding commitment were: Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan, Lincoln Reg. Coun. Rob Foster, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, West Lincoln Reg. Coun. Albert Witteveen, Grimsby Reg. Coun. Wayne Fertich, Pelham Mayor Marv Junkin, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Welland Mayor Frank Campion, Welland Reg. Coun. Pat Chiocchio, Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Peter Nicholson, Thorold Reg. Coun. Tim Whalen, Niagara-on-the-Lake Mayor Betty Disero, Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson, Thorold Mayor Terry Ugilini and St. Catharines Reg. Coun. George Darte.

Those opposed in the 16-9 vote, with three conflicts of interest declared, were: Port Colborne Reg. Coun. Barb Butters, St. Catharines Reg. Coun. Brian Heit, Welland Reg. Coun. Leanna Vilella, Pelham Reg. Coun. Diana Huson, St. Catharines Reg. Coun. Laura Ip, St. Catharines Reg. Coun. Kelly Edgar, Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Barbara Greenwood, Niagara-on-the-Lake Reg. Coun. Gary Zalepa and St. Catharines Reg. Coun. Tim Rigby.

The matter will come to full regional council tonight, Jan. 17, to be ratified and included in the municipality’s budget.

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