Understandably there’s a lot of material for local government to cover at the annual five-day Union of B.C. Municipalities – with a 203-page resolution package, last week’s conference was no exception.
The Trail Times talked with Mayor Mike Martin about a few highlights, in particular, the response to the Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay regional district’s resolution for modernization of the Hospital District Act.
“It went to the floor, was quickly endorsed and not debated,” Martin said. “The resolution was put into a block of motions and unless someone asks for it to be debated, it remains in that block and then there’s a vote … it was endorsed that way.”
The 1996 Act was last updated about 15 years ago. Since that time, concerns have been raised about its ambiguity concerning things like cost-sharing, because taxpayers (through hospital boards) contribute 40 per cent for capital improvements – that amount stood at $2.5 million this year.
Local government often questions whether those capital projects are actually operational in nature as, historically, funding is not to be used for the latter.
The regional district’s resolution acknowledged the province recommended the Act be updated in 2003 and in 2014 the B.C. government stated a review was in progress, but nothing has been advanced to date and local hospital boards continue to struggle with interpretation.
“With regard to the funding formula, the concern has been with regard to RHD (Regional Hospital District) being asked to consider funding for operating needs as part of the cost sharing,” Martin explained.
“The need for clarification, as in the view of the RHD, should be limited to construction and capital equipment.”
Tax rates also need to be amended, he said.
“To enable RHD’s to set the appropriate tax rate to reflect the local hospital district funding priorities.”
Additionally, within the current Act, there is no clear definition of the facilities eligible for funding.
Martin added, “It seems to be all over the map with regard to acute and residential care.”
Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore echoed Martin’s stance in an interview with the Rossland News.
The hospital board is saying the government really needs to look at the legislation that governs hospitals and hospital boards, she said.
“And get some clarity on that because the legislation has been sort of fuzzy for years.”
Normally, hospital boards contribute 40 per cent to capital improvements of hospitals and the province covers 60 per cent.
“But then there’s all these kind of wishy-washy things about who does what and who’s responsible … What’s really capital versus what’s maybe more operational and more staff training or whatever,” Moore added.
“There just needs to be more clarity there and that’s something that hasn’t been looked at in years. So it was nice to see that go forward.”
Through adoption of the 1967 Hospital District Act, regional districts were given responsibility for regional hospital capital financing.
This was enacted in large part, to introduce fairness in access to health services. For example, until that time, municipalities paid for all of the capital costs of respective hospitals, even though people living outside city boundaries benefited.
Similarly, small rural hospitals or diagnostic and treatment centers had to be financed by local improvement districts which varied greatly in terms of their financial capacity.
Martin mentioned another unrelated issue brought forward as a policy paper. This one is titled, “Responsible Conduct of Local Government Elected Officials,” and deals with the behaviour – or misbehaviour – that sometimes occurs at the municipal council level.
“The UBCM took it on last year to put forward some recommendations with regard to effective and responsible conduct within a good governance structure,” he explained. “So they’ve actually put together a paper that was forwarded to the membership, and it was endorsed.”
Now the Local Government Management Association and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has the go-ahead to continue their work and come up with clear-cut policies.
“It is a good piece of work,” Martin said.
“It outlines some of the (misconduct) that can occur and how these can best be handled, I suspect it will be back next year for adoption.”
The UBCM document states, “If a local government faces issues related to responsible conduct among its elected decision-makers, it can affect the local government’s ability to provide good local governance. These issues can include disputes among local government elected officials on municipal councils and regional district boards, inappropriate behaviour towards staff, questionable behaviour at council/board meetings or in interactions with the public, conflict of interest violations, and alleged breaches of other procedures/rules such as open meetings and duty to respect confidentiality.”