BARRIE The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is increasing its municipal levy by 2 per cent to cover a $160,000 hike in its $37 million budget

The health unit has held its $37 million budget to a 0.5 per cent increase in 2019.

They say the cost-shared budget for 2019 is about 0.5 per cent more than last year.

While the province has frozen grants to the health unit since 2013, and with no anticipated increase this year from the province, the health unit will also draw $300,000 from reserves to maintain program delivery.

Their programs are funded 100 per cent by the province and other supplements.

  • Free vision screening for school children

In March the health unit launched its vision screening program for senior kindergarten students across Simcoe and Muskoka.

The initial pilot of the program was expected to reach 40 per cent of the schools in this school year.

It is part of a new mandate for public health, introduced in the revised Ontario Public Health Standards in January, 2018.

Once fully implemented the program will provide free vision screening for more than 5,500 senior kindergarten students in more than 150 schools across Simcoe Muskoka. Debby Oakley, the manager of the vision screening program, said the screening uses simple tests designed as games to identify three common vision problems.

The health unit will also promote comprehensive eye exams by a professional optometrist.

Testing is recommended for children as early as six months of age and is covered by OHIP.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists estimates that 25 per cent of children have some type of vision problem, but health unit analysis shows that less than half of children in Simcoe and Muskoka have had an eye exam before the age of six.