Councillors perturbed at $150M request for new Civic hospital campus
City of Ottawa's chief financial officer calls it the largest request for city funding she's seen
The Ottawa Hospital has asked the City of Ottawa to contribute $150 million toward the construction of its new Civic campus at Dow's Lake, but many city councillors say it's unfair local residents are required to foot part of the bill for new hospitals.
Members of the finance and economic development committee received the briefing on Tuesday from the city's chief financial officer, Wendy Stephanson, who called it the largest request for city funding she had ever received.
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The decision about how — or if — the municipality should cover five per cent of the new hospital's $2.8 billion price tag won't be up to the current council, though, as it will fall to a new group of decision makers after October's municipal election.
The site is already being prepared for construction of the new hospital's parking garage, and the entire Civic campus is expected to be finished in 2028. That's when the city would need to contribute its money.
The Ontario government will cover $2.1 billion, but requires the Ottawa community to cover $700 million toward the project, which will replace the century-old structure further west on Carling Avenue.
$700M local share for hospital
The $150 million request of the city was the remaining amount after The Ottawa Hospital determined it could raise $50 million through retail and other revenues, and after setting a $500 million fundraising goal, committee heard.
That community effort is "by far the largest campaign in this city's history," said Roger Greenberg, who is chairing the campaign. His family, shareholders of the Minto Group, donated $25 million at the launch in mid-April.
Both Greenberg and the hospital's CEO, Cameron Love, urged the municipality to also step up, as other Ontario cities have for their local hospitals.
Cities like Windsor and Vaughan, for instance, have contributed funding for hospital construction by way of a tax levy or issuing debt. The Town of Oakville even used funds from selling the telecom arm of its hydro utility to contribute to its hospital.
"I don't think it's fair that the province puts so much onus on local fundraising and local share to fund health care. I think this should be a provincial responsibility," said Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, and others agreed.
Greenberg couldn't explain why it was the case, but only that it had been so for years.
"It is what it is. We either raise the local share, or the province drops us down to the bottom of the list," said Greenberg.
Love explained Ottawa's new Civic campus has already been approved, so a lack of funding could push the campus construction behind several other hospitals also in the queue.
Tax levy 'unpalatable'
Stephanson and her staff at the City of Ottawa will now come up with "unique" options by mid-2023 for helping the hospital, without redirecting funds from municipal operations and projects.
They will also try to avoid putting any tax burden on residents, which was important for some councillors who are concerned property assessments used for tax calculations are due to be updated.
"With the pending [Municipal Property Assessment Corporation] adjustment, a levy of any amount would certainly be unpalatable," said Coun. Matthew Luloff, who is campaigning for re-election in his Orléans ward.
While a tax levy might be an "easy solution," Stephanson said her staff would look at other ideas such as a development charge specific to the hospital. The hospital is currently exempt from paying any development charges, she noted.
Other councillors said Ottawa taxpayers shouldn't be solely responsible for hospital fundraising when the existing Civic campus is the only trauma centre in the region, and cares for patients from across eastern Ontario, as well as from Quebec and Nunavut.
Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, however, pointed to the university research dollars and health-related companies the hospital will draw, and said she would support Stephanson's plan to find ways to pay for a $150 million contribution from the City of Ottawa.
"Give her the time to see what we can do to step up to the plate, to make sure that the first hospital that gets the money is The Ottawa Hospital," said Harder.