ERCA budget shows what's at risk for conservation authority under new provincial rules

·3 min read
The authority has concerns about what might be funded at Holiday Beach Conservation Area near Amherstburg. (CBC News - image credit)
The authority has concerns about what might be funded at Holiday Beach Conservation Area near Amherstburg. (CBC News - image credit)

The province recently passed legislation that limits the conservation authorities to only being able to levy municipalities for core services, such as flood protection and erosion control.

But questions still remain as to how to separate what the province deems as non-mandatory services and mandatory.

The Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) can't levy municipalities for services such as tree planting on private property, but it's not clear whether that could still be considered in-directly part of the conservation authority's core mandate.

ERCA could still offer camping at Holiday Beach, but the supervisor required to be on site isn't considered part of the core mandatory services ERCA is mandated to provide.

CAO and secretary-treasurer Tim Byrne wants clarification from the province.

"An act is only implemented through regulatory process. And those regulations, we're waiting for those to be given to us by the province," said Byrne.

Tim Byrne is the CAO/Secretary-Treasurer of the Essex Region Conservation Authority.
Tim Byrne is the CAO/Secretary-Treasurer of the Essex Region Conservation Authority.

"There isn't perfect clarity at this point of what services would fall into the mandatory or non-mandatory basket," said ERCA Vice-Chair Kieran McKenzie.

ERCA 's board recently passed a $3.4 million budget, of which it identified $940,415 as being for "non-mandatory" services. Byrne said they made the list based on what the province hasn't deemed mandatory, but that doesn't mean some of those items couldn't still be included in the levy to which each municipality pays ERCA.

"We have attempted to budget going with a black and white interpretation of what it says. We're hoping that there's a bit of grey being applied and some reasonableness as it relates back to historic work of the conservation authority and how we're going to be able to live in the future," said Byrne.

Byrne said the direction from the province will give them the framework to proceed with Memorandums of Agreement with each municipality covering what "non-mandatory" services the municipality wants to fund.

Pushback from taxpayers, says Bondy

Essex Coun. Sherry Bondy says they are already getting pushback from taxpayers over spending on a historic school, and they already committed $100,000 to naming rights for a new visitor centre at the John R. Park Homestead.

"it's almost an expectation right now to have a zero percent increase. Residents are having a hard enough time," she said.

Besides tree planting on private property, the province is also not counting educational programs for children at John R. Park Homestead as core mandated services.

But McKenzie and Brian Hogan, the president of the Windsor and District Labour Council, feel all ERCA programs have benefits to the community at large.

Hogan blames the province for making changes to the conservation authority's legislation to make it easier for developers to get what they want.

Brian Hogan, president of the Windsor and District Labour Council is critical of legislative changes to the conservation authorities in Ontario.
Brian Hogan, president of the Windsor and District Labour Council is critical of legislative changes to the conservation authorities in Ontario.

"If they're not happy, they can appeal directly to the minister, which certainly opens up for some political deals," said Hogan.

"If we can help out some eight and 10 year olds learn by going out to the homestead, going onto our trails and learning about the environment...they're the next people who are going to be solving this problem [climate change]. They will be the next young kids that one day will be working for ERCA," he said.

ERCA has been able to levy the municipalities for all services this year but next year it won't be able to impose the levy on the non-mandatory services.