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Pandemic reveals friction about more spending for Norfolk concerns

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Haldimand faces a situation of taxation without representation, and the county wants something done about it.

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Mayor Ken Hewitt has spoken out in response to the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health’s decision on Oct. 27 to hire 17 full-time workers to serve on the health unit’s COVID-19 response team.

In reply to the health unit’s recent complaint that the pandemic has overwhelmed resources, senior staff at Norfolk County recently recommended hiring 30 full-time workers to assist with testing, contacting tracing, quarantine monitoring and the like.

But Haldimand council – which covers 40 per cent of local health unit costs – said it could live with 10. The additional seven that the board of health settled on will put upward pressure on Haldimand’s 2021 levy-supported budget to the tune of 1.5 percentage points. This has prompted Hewitt to call for a new governance model.

“This pandemic has exposed these weaknesses and how Haldimand needs to be on that board and represented during votes,” he says.

Haldimand is speaking out because much of the additional work in the health district is focused on the 600 bunkhouses in the agricultural zone. Norfolk is home to most of these due to the county’s diversified agricultural base.

Bunkhouses represent a rare congregate setting tolerated by authorities at this time of pandemic. Nearly all who occupy them are migrant workers from Mexico and the Caribbean.

Hewitt and his council colleagues are asking why their taxpayers should pay for inspections, monitoring and outbreak control when most of this expense is incurred in another municipality.

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As well, Haldimand council asks why local taxpayers subsidize bunkhouse inspections when the public doesn’t subsidize oversight for any other business. Haldimand council will address these and other concerns by resolution Nov. 17.

“I don’t believe the taxpayers of Haldimand and Norfolk should be providing these funds so the rest of Ontario can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables,” Hewitt said, adding the province should pay for oversight if it feels this is a priority.

Friction has arisen due to a quirk in the provincial legislation that brought the new counties of Norfolk and Haldimand into being in 2001 following the restructuring of Haldimand-Norfolk Region.

Provincial architects decided that Norfolk and Haldimand would continue to share a health unit after going their separate ways.

They also decided Norfolk would serve as the board of health for both due to its larger population. Haldimand is represented on the Haldimand-Norfolk health and social services advisory committee but has no representation on the board of health where spending decisions are made.

This model worked well for 20 years but now Haldimand is beginning to chafe. Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the board of health, is sympathetic and would welcome reforms.

“The pandemic has highlighted the need for Haldimand to have a seat at the table,” Chopp said. “They should’ve had representation from the beginning. The pandemic has highlighted the deficiency in the governance model.”

Norfolk council has compensated in recent months by welcoming Hewitt as a guest at the board of health table, albeit one without voting privileges.

When Norfolk staff suggested hiring a COVID “SWAT team” of 30 members, Haldimand council countered with a resolution suggesting 10.

Hewitt shared that decision with Norfolk council during a recent board meeting. Chopp noted that Haldimand’s input barely registered and did not factor in the board’s final decision to hire 17, underscoring, she added, the need for Haldimand to have a more formal say on decisions in this area.

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