Conservation authorities across the province are making adjustments to cope with steps taken by the Ford government.
The province has cut its annual grant to the Conservation Authorities by 49 per cent, although, as Sheryl Flannagan of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) noted, “it wasn’t a large amount” to begin with.
For the NVCA, it means a loss of $91,000 in a budget of just over $5 million; for the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA), a loss of $65,000 in 2020. Both conservation authorities have taken steps to largely absorb the cuts.
There's another factor adding to the uncertainty for the coming year: Bill 108, passed in May 2019.
Bill 108, titled More homes, More choice, includes changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, mandating natural hazard protection and management, conservation and management of conservation authority land, and protection of drinking-water sources as top priorities. It also allows municipalities to determine how the conservation authorities will allocate tax dollars, and streamlines the municipal approvals process.
Nearly a year after the bill was approved, the conservation authorities are still waiting to see the details.
In the meantime, both the NVCA and LSRCA were in Innisfil town council on Wednesday night to present an overview of their 2020 budgets and the impact on the town.
The NVCA’s jurisdiction covers 43 per cent of the municipality, while the remaining 57 per cent falls under the LSRCA and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.
Flannagan, filling in for NVCA chief administrative officer Doug Hevenor, explained that the organization was facing an increase of $245,000 in “unavoidable costs” in 2020, in addition to the loss of $91,000 in provincial transfer dollars.
“We found a way to absorb, cut expenditures and increase revenues” to cover almost 75 per cent of the increase, Flannagan told council.
But, she added, there will be an additional $9,311 added to last year’s $175,540 levy to make up the difference.
The increase represents a charge of 17 cents per resident.
The NVCA is also asking for an additional $9,491 for asset management, bringing Innisfil’s 2020 levy to $185,031.
Flannagan provided a summary of the conservation authority’s accomplishments in 2019, which included completion of a risk management plan for nine municipalities including Innisfil, planting 139,000 trees on 21 properties, and processing over 2,400 applications, and its plans for 2020.
Those plans include working on an integrated watershed management plan and reducing red tape to speed up the approvals process.
Mark Critch, general manager of corporate services and chief financial officer with the LSRCA, made a similar presentation.
With nine member municipalities circling Lake Simcoe, the larger LSRCA has a 2020 budget of $21 million, with funding not only from municipal tax levies, but federal and provincial grants as well as partnerships.
“We’ve been looking for ways to offset in our current budget,” said Critch, adding they have "sharpened our pencils” to absorb the loss of $65,000 in provincial transfer payments.
The LSRCA has also put a freeze on new hirings and attempted to limit increases to the cost of inflation.
Calling it a “status quo budget,” Critch added, “we respect the financial pressures” on member municipalities.
The Town of Innisfil will be looking at an increase in the 2020 levy from $394,431 to $404,981, a change of $10,550.
“It’s less than 2.7 per cent,” said Critch, noting that among its projects in 2019, the LSRCA completed mapping to understand flooding in the watershed, held consultations on winter salt management, and completed or began 123 restoration projects, nine of them in Innisfil.
Both budgets requests have already been approved by Innisfil town council.