Surprise SSEA spike catches Tay off guard

·4 min read

Tay councillors likely feel like they found coal in their stockings at a recent meeting.

During their regular meeting just prior to the holidays, Tay Mayor Ted Walker and CAO Lindsay Barron spoke to the respectful circumstances surrounding a 5.4% budget request increase discovery, which set off a series of questions.

The Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA), a joint service board serving eight partnered municipalities around Georgian Bay, has provided environmental services and source water protection (SWP) regulatory services resources since 2009.

“You may recall that we had sent a letter to the SSEA during the summer,” Walker explained, “advising that we had asked our staff to target a 1% increase and we hoped that our associates, other agencies and so on would be able to meet that.

“Their budget request came in at 2%. And then on further review, it was discovered by our staff that the increase was actually 5.4%.”

The SSEA provides core services and additional services to the partners, billed either as core or as the individual cost recovery or special project.

A letter by Walker to SSEA executive director Julie Cayley in early December challenged the numbers provided by the association, with Walker centring his focus around a sentence from the SSEA, which advised that the risk management official/inspector (RMO) funding model was ‘further developed to include relevant costs incurred by SSEA for funding this position in this activity.’

Walker called upon the SSEA in the correspondence to “clearly identify and document” activities, services, those costs, and their legislative or regulatory requirements.

Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle considered the letter “arrogant.”

A meeting was scheduled to discuss the matter shortly thereafter, and while Walker had assumed it would be a staff meeting to talk it out, he was surprised to find that Cayley and SSEA board chair Steffen Walma were also in attendance. Walker admitted that his and Walma’s presence detracted more than assisted the discussion.

“I wasn’t really happy with the outcome of the meeting,” said Walker.

A letter was issued by the SSEA a day later, detailing the legislative obligations to the municipalities as a core SWP authority and special project RMO.

“The SSEA has communicated directly and repeatedly and has done so in good faith respecting the multi partner relationship,” stated the letter. “We are disappointed there is a perception that SSEA is ‘feeding Tay Council’s uncertainty.'”

Furthermore, the letter explained that the ‘further developed’ RMO funding model increase, which had been previously based on predictions of workload and risk was corrected upon receipt of actual cost numbers, and the $7,055 RMO request was budgeted as a separate project item.

Barron provided another piece of information, as the SSEA had received SWP grant funding which were put into a reserve, with portions allotted to each joint municipal partner.

“During that meeting, SSEA did ask whether Tay council would like to apply those funds to this year’s budget ask,” stated Barron, “thereby eliminating the increase, and actually, I think we would see a little bit of savings. Because overall, I do believe the increase that we are seeing is around $6,700.

“So actually, if we applied those funds, we would actually see a decrease in their overall bill for next year.”

Barron noted that council did not need to make a decision on the reserve application, but council voiced their support for the option nonetheless.

Walker inquired if council would like to have Cayley attend a future meeting to provide further details and discussion, or simply address the 5.4% request increase at the final draft budget discussion. Council chose the latter.

Coun. Barry Norris praised the SSEA for their involvement, but stated that accountability was a factor in his decision.

“It was pretty clear when we turned around and sent the notification to Severn Sound that we were expecting a 1%. Coming back in at 5.4%, that’s a heck of a…,” Norris trailed. “Even though we’re not talking great gobs of money here, the bottom line comes back to they have to be accountable.”

Tay council meets for regular council meetings every fourth Wednesday of the month. Further information including council’s agenda can be found on the Tay township website.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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