TIMMINS - The Ontario government has pulled the plug on plans by the City of Timmins to recover overpayments that Timmins has been paying into the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) for several years.
The decision from Queen’s Park was revealed in a letter to the CDSSAB Tuesday morning and came as a complete surprise to Mayor Steve Black, the man who orchestrated the new formula which would see Timmins saving roughly $1 million in overpayments. The new formula was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
The CDSSAB is an agency consisting of Timmins and a dozen other smaller municipalities that provide funding for social housing, adult and child welfare and EMS paramedic services across the Cochrane District.
Timmins city council has responded to the province by voting to get a legal opinion on whether the Ministry has the right to nose in on CDSSAB business. Council also voted to withhold any further payments to the CDSSAB for the time being.
The mayor told city council Tuesday he was upset to get a phone call and a copy of a letter sent from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) advising that the funding formula agreed to by the majority of CDSSAB members earlier this year was being cancelled.
“The cusp of the issue is that early this morning I got a call from the deputy minister of MCSS telling me that they have amended the regulations that apply to the DSSAB Act and frozen the funding formula as of Dec. 10th, 2017,” Black told council.
The funding formula, which was a simmering controversy for nearly two years, was put in place by a double majority vote of CDSSAB board members as well as by the municipal councils of member communities. Most member municipalities agreed to the change last spring. In order to lessen the overall impact of the change, it was agreed that the funding formula would not come into place until the new year in 2018.
During the effort to bring a change to the funding formula, Black reminded council that Timmins had gone to the province looking for help and direction.
As part of his comments to council Tuesday night, Black presented some letters from MCSS minister Helena Jaczek, directing Timmins to solve the funding issue within the scope of the existing DSSAB Act.
“I would encourage you to continue to work with the CDSSAB board toward a mutual resolution,” Jaczek wrote to the city in June 2016.
Black said there was a similar letter sent out a few months later.
“We continue to encourage the city to work with the Cochrane DSSAB within the current legislative and regulatory framework to resolve outstanding issues,” Jaczek wrote in October 2016.
The mayor said the most frustrating thing is that the city took the minister’s advice and resolved the issue within the confines of the DSSAB legislation.
“It is important to state that that’s exactly what we have done. We took their direction and followed the legislation which requires a double majority vote to pass funding formula changes,” he said.
Black asked council for support on the two resolutions. Several council members immediately spoke in support of the action.
Coun. Pat Bamford said he was “stunned” the province would take such action just weeks ahead of the new formula coming into play.
“The City of Timmins was paying almost $2-million more to the DSSAB than the services that the city taxpayers were receiving,” said Bamford.
He added that Timmins was effectively subsidizing other communities across Northeastern Ontario to the tune of $2 million.
Bamford said he saw no point in Timmins taking part in any new mediation effort since the province has effectively shut down what Timmins was seeking.
Opposition to the provincial action also came from CDSSAB member Coun. Andrew Marks, who said the letter was troubling and disappointing.
“The Ministry of Community and Social Services on Dec. 12 has kicked the legs out from under the City of Timmins in this whole action that we’ve done above board, open and clear with all of the partners,” said Marks.
He said that Timmins, by contributing up to $2-million more than it needed to, was paying more than 63% of the full operating cost of the CDSSAB. He said Timmins was only seeking a fair deal.
“This was to give some element of fairness back to a situation that had become lopsided,” said Marks. “We didn’t hide anything throughout this process.”
Marks also recommended that the city not take part in any mediation process on the issue, saying it would be a wasted effort. He added that by refusing to make any further payments to the CDSSAB would give Timmins a stronger bargaining position.
Coun. Noella Rinaldo also supported legal action. She did however suggest that the city should consider attending mediation just to see what is on the table. She added she favoured making payments to the CDSSAB, but only what was promised on the new funding formula that was agreed to, and not a penny more.
Coun. Mike Doody said the supported both resolutions. He said every member of council is obligated to get the best deal for the City of Timmins. Doody said Timmins has never failed to pay its fair share, but it is only fair to expect a fair deal from CDSSAB.
Doody also commented that from what he could see Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson was “missing in action” on the controversy.
Doody suggested that since Timmins provides a clear majority of Bisson’s votes, he would expect to see Bisson stepping up in support of the City of Timmins on this issue.
Coun. Rick Dubeau said he supported legal action, but also asked for a copy of all the correspondence between the city and Queen’s Park on the issue. He said he wanted to be caught up on the dispute to be able to make an informed decision.
Coun. Joe Campbell said he could understand the argument for getting a legal opinion on the funding issue, but said he was against withholding any CDSSAB payments. Campbell said he didn’t know if the city had the legal right to take such action.
When the vote was called on the two resolutions, council was unanimous on going out to get a legal opinion on the province stepping in to freeze the funding formula.
Council also approved the plan to withhold payments to the CDSSAB in January, but councillors Campbell and Dubeau were opposed to that action.