First published: June 21, 2000
It is an outrage to learn Northumberland County council further reduced its contribution to the Golden Plough Lodge to $300,000, with plans to stop paying within the near future. Politicians have clearly turned their back on the elderly in our community.
Only 10 years ago, the county provided about $1 million to the only public home for the aged in Northumberland. To listen to local politicians, there was a time when it was a point of personal pride to support the Plough. Northumberland looked after its own, some said. The people living in the Golden Plough had contributed to our community and it was only proper for the rest of us to give them something back, others said.
Former Alnwick Reeve Flex McMillan, the long-time chairman and Golden Plough committee member, would never have let this take place. A staunch champion of the Plough, he would have arm-twisted or embarrassed county politicians who did not support him.
But that is no longer the case. Now the county has hired a consultant to find efficiencies in order to reduce the county portion of the $6.5 million budget. Administrator Carol Shaw tries to find a silver lining in a dark cloud by arguing these kinds of cuts will not hurt services. Very brave, but hardly necessary. There is no way anyone should be allowing this to happen in the first place.
With the current homecare system available to residents of Northumberland, many can stay in their homes or apartments for much longer. When the time comes for families to move loved ones into some kind of home for the aged, the medical condition of the person is far more advanced. This means the Plough must provide more intensive services, not less. Shaw has pointed this out many times. The Plough needs more money. Is everyone deaf?
But county politicians won’t listen. Instead they want long-time residents to wait for admittance. Ninety people are awaiting one of the 161 beds. Maybe what politicians want is simple: pay what little money left these pensioners has in saving for private care. Think about it for a second. If they could afford private care, wouldn’t they already be in a private facility. Hey, when they were paying taxes back in the days when most of those on council were still in diapers, nobody complained. County politicians must think they owe the elderly nothing. Nothing at all.
Hamilton Township Deputy Reeve Gail Latchford deserves credit for firing a solid shot at Reeve Fred Holloway. She took him to task for the cuts, but he came back with only feeble answers. The drivel he argued to defend such a reprehensible action was pathetic, but most likely represents the party line county representatives are peddling around other councils.
What is even worse, the county is picking on a group in our society who should not have to defend themselves. The county knows none of the residents at the Plough is going to stand up to them. It is up to families and friends, along with those who respect our most senior citizens, to hold county council accountable.
What is most frightening is the Plough’s budget woes are only one small part of a very suspect budget. The 6.2 per cent increase approved by county council is a disgrace. Only now it become clear politicians have used reserve account to shore up a faulty financial plan. Waste management was getting money from the road budget to help reduce tax increases. This in the face of $43 million worth of needed road and bridge repair.
County politicians are being less than honest. If taxpayers knew the real fiscal picture, the entire lot of them would be tarred and feathered, then thrown out of office. The reason for the financial slight of hand is obvious. Rural politicians didn’t want to move to a single tier of government. If residents knew they would face a crush of tax hikes from both the county and from local municipal councils, then their plans to keep a two-level system of government would have been quashed.
The only way we are going to afford all the downloading and the real costs of running our services was to have one, single county government. That way the tax burden would have been equalized across all municipalities and any revenues from development or new industry could have been shared. Efficiency and cost-savings could have been found. Instead, were given a diet of mushy numbers and now we are gong to have to swallow tax hikes and lost essential public services, like the Golden Plough.
Everyone should remember this budget come election time in November. Once the politicians are out, the new council should deal severely with civil servants that allowed this to happen. Maybe they need to go, too.