| May 01, 2008

Feature Article - May 1, 2008

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Feature Article - May 1, 2008 Central Frontenac to pay some of medical centre upgrade costsBy Jeff Green

Almost two years ago, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care committed over a million dollars ($1,086,000) towards a major renovation of the Sharbot Lake Medical Centre as a rural pilot for the new Family Health Team concept they have been promoting. On top of that, township officials and Dr. Peter Bell of the medical centre were told that the province would pay expenses once the building was up and running, and would help the township by paying rent, which would enable the township to finance their share of the costs over 25 years.

It turned out that it was too good to be completely true.

When the project was first budgeted, it was set at about $1.25 million, but when the construction tenders came back it had risen to over $1,586,000.

The construction has taken longer, and been more complicated than expected, and some cost over runs have resulted.

“There are always problems when older buildings are renovated,” Central Frontenac Chief Administrative Officer John Duchene informed council this Tuesday, April 29. “Certain studs turned out to be insufficient and it cost $5,000 to replace studs; fire rating requirements cost money, and it cost $13,000 to reconcile a mold problem. In short, we are now facing a $97,000 shortfall, including $35,000 yet required to finish the building”.

The township, which has been represented by Councilor Frances Smith on the Family Health Team committee since the start, was hopeful that by charging rent all of the costs including the overruns would be covered, but that all changed two weeks ago, when officials from the Ministry of Health “pointed out that yes, they were prepared to pay rent, but not to retire the debt since they had already invested over $1 million into the project. By rent they said they are willing to pay for the upkeep of the building, utilities etc. but that is all,” Duchene reported.

Last Sunday, a stakeholders’ meeting took place, and it was determined that the physicians would be willing to take on some of the cost of the total annual loan repayment of $36,000, which is what it will cost to pay the debt over 25 years. The community care access centre will also assume part of the loan.

“The upshot is the exposure to the township will be $14,000 per year,” said Duchene.

“My concern here is that we don’t pick a fight with the ministry,” said Peter Bell. “It is important to recognise the amount of money that will be coming into this centre, about $740,000 a year, not including seconded services. The reason I think we've been so successful is partly because we are rural, but also because we have a three-way partnership; we all really have a common goal. So, to me it was very important that we continue to function well as a team. We've not been short-changed; from the beginning I didn’t expect that the taxpayers would get away without putting any money in. There is every indication they are looking at other ways they can help us.”

“If it costs us $14,000, we are still getting a hell of a good deal,” said Councilor Bob Harvey. “Do you know how many municipalities would give their eye teeth to have this kind of deal?”

Marcel Giroux, who attended with Dr. Bell as a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the Family Health Team, recalled that when he was on the Oso Council in the early ’80s the township invested $80,000 in building the medical centre in the first place.

“The return has been 1,000 times the investment,” Giroux said.

The Family Health Team is scheduled to have its official opening in mid-June. It will provide a range of medical services for patients in Central and North Frontenac.

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