County lawyer Paula Boutis will review a request to broaden membership in the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health before Norfolk council takes action on the matter.
“I support this in principle,” says Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus. “But instead of ‘endorsement’ we should say `consideration.’ Our lawyer might have something to say about this.”
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The initial motion, proposed at the Dec. 1 board of health meeting, suggested an “endorsement” of Haldimand’s position. There is broad agreement on the board that Haldimand needs to be represented – including from board chair Kristal Chopp, mayor of Norfolk County – but some want more input before rendering a final decision.
By resolution, Haldimand council asked the board of health to review the matter on Nov. 23.
Haldimand is concerned that the board is racking up large expenses related to COVID-19. Haldimand is responsible for 40 per cent of these costs but is not represented on the board, giving rise to a situation of “taxation without representation.”
In its resolution, Haldimand council says the current decision-making process “is not consistent with the governance principles of transparency and accountability.”
The Norfolk and Haldimand board of health is a vestige of the days when the counties were united as Haldimand-Norfolk Region (1974-2000).
When the region was restructured into standalone counties, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs left Norfolk and Haldimand with a common health unit. In his final report, special adviser Milt Farrow recommended that Norfolk council serve as the board of health for both municipalities due to Norfolk’s larger population (64,000 versus 45,600).
Until 2020, the board of health was mostly a rubber stamp for health unit reports regarding provincially-funded programs. This arrangement did not attract attention until the COVID-19 pandemic put the board of health in the local spotlight.
Since March, the health unit has incurred large, unexpected expenses related to COVID-19 detection, tracing and suppression. Haldimand council has bridled because it is responsible for 40 percent of these expenses but has no vote on the board.
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt has observed that much of this expense is related to bunkhouse issues in Norfolk’s agricultural zone. Hewitt recently said he has difficulty justifying this expense to his taxpayers, many of whom have challenges of their own related to the pandemic.
The board of health has compensated somewhat by allowing Hewitt to sit in on meetings, on occasion, as a non-voting contributor. However, Haldimand wants more. If the board of health agrees, the Ford government will have to amend the legislation that brought the new Norfolk and the new Haldimand into being 20 years ago.
Before acting on Haldimand’s request, the board of health will ask Boutis to review the relevant legislation and report back on the implications of reconstituting its membership.