Gananoque Town Council voted against a motion that would see the town commit $75,000 annually for the next five years to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF). At the Town’s last Council meeting of 2023, a funding request that was presented by UHKF in November was officially voted down 5-2, with Councillors Anne-Marie Koiner and Deputy Mayor Vicki Leakey voting in favour of the funding.
UHKF made the ask as part of fundraising within Kingston and the surrounding areas for upgrades at Kingston’s hospitals. Namely, UHKF is seeking donations from municipalities to purchase equipment upgrades in operating rooms like a new MRI machine for the city’s Breast Imaging Centre, an upgraded transitional genomics lab, and the eventual creation of a third IVR lab.
Gananoque has donated $333,000 to Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) since 2003 to support projects including the Cancer Centre expansion, but hasn’t previously committed to annual funding. In 2023 there were over 15,000 visits to KHSC from residents of Gananoque, and since 2019 trips from the town to KHSC for cancer treatment have increased 30 per cent.
For context, Kingston, Brockville, Belleville, Quinte West — essentially every municipality in southeastern Ontario that has residents making use of Kingston’s hospital services — have agreed to contribute upon request from UHKF, except Gananoque. More than half of the patients treated at KHSC come from surrounding municipalities, and Kingston General Hospital (KGH) provides services that smaller local hospitals like Brockville and Quinte are unable to.
The funding request was too much for Gananoque Council however, who balked at the idea of increasing resident taxes by an additional 0.75 per cent to accommodate the funding commitment — in addition to a seven per cent municipal property tax increase that has been proposed in a draft budget.
Mayor John Beddows said ultimately council wasn’t comfortable passing on the extra cost to residents, and that fundamentally it’s the responsibility of the province to support the health care needs of municipalities.
“One can make the argument that certainly a constitutionally assigned responsibility needs to be funded from the place where the responsibility lies,” Beddows said.
“Whether or not something is or is not funded at the municipal level, whether we elect to do something or not is as much about affordability at this level. And frankly, from our perspective here, this request would have resulted in an increase of our municipal tax levy by three quarters of one per cent.”
Beddows said with property taxes already rising in Gananoque and transfers to the town adversely shrinking, council felt they weren’t in a position to fulfill the funding request. Essentially, he feels the province is downloading healthcare responsibilities to municipalities.
“At a time when transfers from the province are shrinking, we’re being asked to contribute to a hospital,” Beddows said.
Vicki Leakey, one of two Gananoque councillor members who voted in favour of the donation, agreed that it’s frustrating that the province is making it necessary for municipalities to cover costs like healthcare. She said she understands that there’s a need but also why other councillors would be hesitant to make the commitment.
“I do understand the need and, yes, it impacts our residents, but I also see where another council member might ask if local municipalities should be taking these additional costs on without clear accountability from the Province why they are downloading these costs,” Leakey said.
“Unfortunately, the municipalities have no one under us to download some of the local services we are responsible for.”
Leakey added that she wonders if donor fatigue is contributing to UHKF needing to ask more out of municipalities.
Tom Zsolnay, CEO of UHKF, said municipalities being asked to contribute to hospital fundraising efforts is not a new practice, and exists outside of any debate over whether or not the province is adequately funding health care.
“The provincial grants fully fund the operations of the organization of the hospitals in the sense of paying for the staff and the physicians,” Zsolnay said.
“The province has never funded the purchase of equipment and it has only partially funded the major infrastructure costs… you can have a philosophical conversation about whether or not the province should be funding more, but that’s different from what the rules are.”
Zsolnay said he’s been fundraising to municipalities for KHSC and Providence Care since the 80s, and this funding request shouldn’t be looked at as the provincial government shirking its responsibility. He added that municipalities aren’t begrudged for deeming donations untenable, but the requests are based on both community usage and a municipality’s overall tax base.
“All the municipalities have challenges with making their budgets balanced, and no politician wants to raise taxes, and no taxpayer wants to pay more taxes, so that’s perfectly understandable,” Zsolnay said.
“So we then come up with a number that kind of takes into account patient numbers and their overall budgets.”
Zsolnay said it’s particularly difficult for Gananoque to promise commitment funding, as they haven’t contributed regularly in the past and would need to find a new budget line. He did say, however, UHKF will continue talking to councillors and build a new proposal seeking donations and will “go back every year until they succumb.”
Amounts vary year to year, but typically municipal donations account for close to $2.1 million per year, generally somewhere around a quarter of the total fundraiser.
Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.