Catfish Creek Conservation Authority members at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 7, unanimously adopted in principle targeting a five percent increase in its levy on municipalities within its watershed for 2022, and a three percent pay increase for its staff.
Acting General Manager Dusty Underhill noted that for this year, staff members didn’t ask for any “cost of living” increase to their pay to help the authority cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He offered three options for a pay increase, at two percent, 2.5 percent or three percent, and recommended the last, noting several neighbouring conservation authorities were looking at that for next year.
Turning to the budget as a whole for 2022, he predicted that “there’s going to be a big shortfall.”
The Ontario government had set new core mandates for conservation authorities which would involve additional work for the authority, but hadn’t indicated it would provide extra funding for that.
For years, he said, CCCA had used money raised through non-core activities, such as the annual maple syrup festival and its campgrounds, to make up what was already a big deficit in what the Ontario government demanded of it and how much provincial funding it received.
For 2021, that funding shortfall was in the range of $200,000, he said.
CCCA had also had to let maintenance split on some of its properties and buildings because of the shortfall, “which is an unsustainable business model.”
Financial Services Coordinator Susan Simmons said the province was telling authorities it had to deal with “low water responses” again, something that had previously been dropped.
“I don’t know how it’s going to look” in terms of funding for that, she said. If money didn’t come from the levy on municipalities or provincial funding, then the authority would again have to dip into reserve funds.
This had been going on for years, she said, and a lot of maintenance work had been deferred.
Malahide Councillor and CCCA Chairman Rick Cerna said, “You an only hang onto something so long (without upkeep) and then it becomes worthless.”
While a lot of money might be involved, he said, it was better to do that work and prevent even higher costs in the future from neglect.
Hopefully the province would hand out a few more grants this year, he added.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” South-West Oxford Councillor Paul Buchner, a board member, said. He expected the province would be looking to municipal levies to make up for the shortfall.
Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, a board member, said that would have to be where the money for additional mandated programs would have to come from.
She said setting targets was important now. Central Elgin would be publishing for public comment its proposed 2022 budget next month.
With additional mandated programs, municipalities needed to know the province was “literally turning those costs over to the municipality,” she said.
The authority, she added, would under further provincial changes need signed “memorandums of understanding” with its member municipalities to continue to offer non-mandated programs, which were needed to raise money for mandated work.
Mr. Underhill said the authority would have a lot of work to do between now and the new year to get those memorandums in place.
Mayor Martyn said environmental education, which was not mandated, was an important part of the work done by both CCCA and Kettle Creek Conservation Authority.
She would raise the subject of funding for the authorities at her municipal council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12, she promised.
Cr. Buchner suggested setting the levy increase target at five percent, and Mayor Martyn agreed. “I think it has to be at least that much. It should be more.”
Board members ordered the authority staff to prepare a proposed budget for next year with a five percent levy increase ($17,000) and a three percent pay increase for staff.
At a five percent levy increase, Aylmer, which contributed $93,561 to CCCA for this year, would see that increase to $98,197.
Malahide Township would rise from $136,277 to $141,813, Central Elgin from $98,662 to $103,488, South-West Oxford from $13,551 to $14,211 and St. Thomas from $21,885 to $22,531.
Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express