At the Faraday Township council meeting on Feb. 3, Tim Pidduck, the general manager and secretary treasurer of the Crowe Valley Conservation Authority made a presentation to council regarding the authority’s 2021 budget. He informed council that the budget had been approved by the CVCA board in January with a 1.56 per cent increase, and that despite government cutbacks, staffing challenges, and the effects of COVID-19, they were moving forward with their goals for 2021 like finishing their asset management plan and maintaining and upgrading their infrastructure.
Mayor Dennis Purcell welcomed Pidduck to the meeting, who thanked Purcell and informed council that the CVCA’s proposed draft budget had been approved by its board in January.
“It’s unfortunate the way things played out this year you weren’t able to have a council meeting before our board meeting [the Faraday council meeting was cancelled in January]. I just wanted to let you know that our budget increase was only 1.56 per cent this year, versus nine per cent in 2020,” he says.
Pidduck went on to say that the conservation authority board has been very supportive over the years, and that support is attributable to their member municipalities like Faraday.
“You folks are the foundation for the authority, for our budget and for what we do and don’t do at the authority,” he says.
With the challenges that the CVCA has faced, they can’t tackle every issue that they want to every year, according to Pidduck, and to try to do so would make things more difficult and put more pressure on their budget than is already there.
He says that the CVCA is still feeling the effect of provincial government cutbacks to their grant funding from last year. They were able to cope with that, although it necessitated a nine per cent increase in their budget for 2020.
Having gotten through that, their budgetary increase for this year is only 1.56 per cent.
“That being said, we still want to push forward with other initiatives, like finishing up an asset management plan to maintain their assets, like our building, our vehicles, our computer hardware and software and our flood forecasting and warning system,” he says.
The next stage will be to include additional funding to take care of their hard assets, infrastructure like their dams.
“So, in 2021, now that we’ve dealt with the cuts that the provincial government gave us, is that year to launch that. Even setting aside additional capital reserves to address these assets like our dams, we were still able to come in at a budgetary increase of 1.56 per cent for the combined operational and capital budgets. So, I’m pleased that we’re able to do that and I’m pleased that the authority has decided to support that initiative,” he says.
Pidduck explained that the CVCA’s infrastructure was in the mid to late stages of its operating life, and that now is the time to invest in it to extend its life expectancy, and to employ the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” He said they also need to look at and update their current system for flood forecasting and warning, and he says that part of that money has already been allocated through their asset management plan.
He mentioned that there was still funding available to them, like the water and erosion control infrastructure funding, but that they needed to match every dollar of grant money they get with their own funds.
He mentioned that they are planning to submit an application, and if successful, would certainly ease the CVCA’s financial burden.
Deputy Mayor Marg Nicholson asked Pidduck about the 1.56 per cent budgetary increase, and how that would translate into Faraday township’s levy for 2021. He replied that there would be a $650 increase to their levy for 2021, which Nicholson thought was fair. Faraday paid $47,177.31 to the CVCA in 2020.
“You’ve done an amazing job with the money you have,” she says.
Pidduck replied that they do try to stretch dollars where they can and still provide the services and programs that they are mandated to provide by the province.
With regard to staffing, he said that their budget included a 0.75 per cent increase in the cost-of-living adjustment for staff (a increase in social security benefits to counteract inflation), which was less that what it ended up being for 2021. He also said that the CVCA had experienced challenges with staffing in 2020. There are eight staff including Pidduck, and of those eight people, at one point during December, five of them were unable to work due to disability leave, paternity leave or injury. He said that three people are still on disability leave.
“So, it’s been a bit of a challenge from a staffing perspective but we’re addressing that and moving forward for 2021. I have some short-term contract staff that have just started but as of now, I’m still down one full-time position. I’m hoping that one or two staff on disability will come back in the next month or two,” he says.
He said that did add to the challenges and to some of the costs that they had to add to the 2021 budget, for additional staff training.
Pidduck also said there were some unrelated expenses incurred due to COVID-19, which he admitted was like everyone else trying to handle those expenses and maintain their level of service and programs.
Nicholson had another question in regard to the CVCA’s board composition, and whether board members from each municipality now had to be a council member or could still be chosen from the community to represent the township in question. Pidduck replied that it had been confusing on his end as well trying to figure out what the province wanted in this regard.
“As of right now, my understanding is that the government kind of backtracked a little bit, and they made an allowance, and I’m really glad that they have,” he says.
At this point, Pidduck says that there has to be a minimum of 70 per cent council members on the board, and the other 30 per cent can be comprised of members of the community.
“It’s always been a really positive thing to have that appointment from the public in general, someone interested in conservation or who has that background and experience. It’s been beneficial to our board,” he says.
After asking if there were any further questions, and hearing none, Purcell thanked Pidduck, who in turn thanked council for the opportunity to present to them about the CVCA’s 2021 budget.
After the Faraday council meeting, Pidduck said that he was very pleased with the questions put forward and the support council offered to him and to the CVCA.
“Although it was not specifically stated, I believe council recognizes the core mandated services and programs delivered to residents of the township are vital for their interests, protection vis a vis natural hazards such as flooding, and ensures the public that the CVCA is acting as the environmental voice when and where possible.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times