London and Middlesex County taxpayers may have to dig deeper next year for public health services.

The finance committee for the Middlesex-London Health Unit's board has endorsed a recommendation to increase the health unit budget in 2021 by $762,182.

According to a health unit report the bulk of the proposed increase is eaten up by salaries, cost of living increases and negotiated settlements with employee unions, which amounts to about $510,000.

There are also increased costs for the premises itself, the new location inside Citi Plaza in downtown London.

In addition, there are a number of items such as one-time IT costs, and new programs such as one to help abused women leaving their partners.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie spoke highly of the so-called iHEAL program at Thursday’s finance committee meeting.

“It links in with all those other services and supports to make sure that the person makes it through a difficult period, and also transitions successfully into that time beyond their most high-risk period.”

The proposed increase would have been much higher if not for a number of programs that are recommended to be discontinued and defunded, such as a staff immunization program.

Many such services would not be missed by the general public, said Maureen Cassidy, city councillor and health board member.

“We tend to want to invest more in the programs where we have greater outcomes and invest less in the programs (that) may be a good program but we’re not getting as much return on the investment.”

The recommendation goes to the health board later this month, then to the city and county respectively. The breakdown of who pays what is still unclear, as some programs are provincially mandated and could be funded by the province.

“It won’t be a surprise coming out, I believe,” said interim health unit CEO Dr. Michael Clarke. “But then we have to obviously present the case for the increased funds to our municipal partners.”

The proposed health unit budget increase does not include any extra costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which so far have been funded by the province.