Merritt Mayor plans to withhold tax funds from province amid temporary ER closures

As the crisis of emergency room closures continues to hinder health care at multiple BC Interior hospitals, officials in one city are taking action.

The City of Merritt is taking the drastic step of withholding tax money from the provincial government following the latest emergency department closure.

“We pay this every year at the beginning of every year. For 2023 we already paid, but for 2024 we will recalculate the 365 days of the year that we pay our taxes and then we will pull back the number of days we were closed because it was a service we didn’t get, or I would expect the government would credit us coming into the next year,” said Michael Goetz, mayor of Merritt.

The ER at the Nicola Valley Hospital has been closed 14 times this year, three this month.

“The staffing shortage that they say is the reason for these closures has to be addressed. All of these communities need emergency care,” said Merritt resident, Georgia Clement.

“Their standard answer for us here in Merritt is that if you need emergency care you are to go to Kamloops, which is fine if you have transportation.”

Goetz says if the province were to challenge the City of Merritt for withholding payments, he would welcome it.

“We can work with the ministry and say what does this look like, how do we make this work and how do we get compensated for the days we never got service for,” said Goetz.

The impact of the ER closures is not just on residents, according to the mayor, the fire department is having to step in to help ambulance services shuttle patients around out of town.

Goetz says he plans to bill the province for all the service the fire department is providing beyond its scope of work.

“Now, we are downloading responsibility from the government for having our firefighters respond to first aid calls which is not their responsibility,” said Goetz.

“I’ve asked the fire chief to keep track of stuff that was not scope when the hospital was down and we will submit that bill to the province for remuneration as well.”

Goetz is urging other municipalities dealing with ER closures, like in Oliver where the South Okanagan General Hospital emergency department has been closed nine times this month, to follow in Merritt’s footsteps.

The amount of money withheld from the government won’t be made available until the end of the year.

A rally was Sunday to protest the closures, and according to residents, they will continue to until the situation is resolved.

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