SAUGEEN – Not all Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority board members are in agreement with spending reserves to pay for unplanned expenses.
The first involved hiring a consultant to conduct a review of environmental planning and regulations department fees.
Laura Molson, manager, corporate services, presented a report to the board at the May 19 meeting recommending hiring Watson and Associates Economists Ltd. to review the fees.
Board Member Mark Davis, Arran-Elderslie, commented on the spending of $29,100 “to see if we’re spending the right amount…”
Board chair Maureen Couture explained that Bill 109 makes the matter of fees charged by the SVCA “a bit more complicated.”
Past chair Dan Gieruszak made reference to the potential of new fees as the conservation authority negotiates with municipalities as required by the new provincial legislation.
“We need to have some solid footing,” he said.
Davis asked, “Do we know what the new services are?”
He suggested pricing without knowing what the services are, is premature.
“We should be doing this a year from now,” said Davis.
Couture stressed the need to have some solid information now, but agreed with Davis that the fees should be reviewed in a year (in-house).
Board member Bill Stewart said, “It’s going to cost us money however we do it… let’s go with the consultants.”
The decision to undertake a fee review was made in July 2021. Watson and Associates has conducted similar reviews for other conservation authorities in the province.
This item is not in the 2022 budget, and would be paid for from reserves.
The motion to accept the recommendation carried, with two board members voting against it.
Elise MacLeod, manager, water resources, asked for approval to prepare a request for proposal to complete an inspection of all SVCA flood and erosion control projects.
“I suggest that this year, we get a consultant to do it. It would get us off on the right foot,” she said.
Jennifer Stephens, SVCA general manager, added her strong recommendation that a consultant be hired.
Funding for this would also be drawn from reserves.
SVCA works with municipalities and regulatory agencies to maintain 19 structures including six dams.
Traditionally, the structures have been inspected annually by the SVCA’s water resources manager. However, staff recommended the 2022 inspection by done by an external consultant to “re-establish baseline conditions” to facilitate future inspections, to aid staff with funding applications, and to serve as the foundation for the asset management plan due in 2024.
Estimated cost of the review is between $35,000 and $40,000.
Board member Don Murray, Huron-Kinloss, noted if the SVCA brings in a consultant, “it’s going to cost us money… we may not have the money in the budget to do the recommended work.”
Despite certain misgivings, the motion to prepare an RFP carried.
A third request for funds not included in the 2022 budget, to be taken from reserves, was for the purchase of two new cars for the SVCA fleet.
The request came from Donna Lacey, manager, forestry and lands.
The decision had been made to buy a new truck, but the hiring of more staff created the need for more vehicles. Since not all staff require use of a truck, the decision was made to purchase two used cars instead.
The problem is, used cars are hard to come by in today’s market, and the price is almost that of new vehicles.
An additional $15,000 was requested to supplement the $40,000 approved in the budget.
Davis voiced his objection to the purchase in principle.
“We’ve spent $90,000 in 20 minutes that’s not in the budget… why do we bother with a budget? … We seem to have lost track here,” said Davis.
Gieruszak commented that all municipalities have faced “costs not in their budgets” due to supply chain issues and other challenges “staff couldn’t have predicted, and the board couldn’t have predicted.”
Stewart agreed that “it’s been a very extraordinary year.” He suggested taking another look at the budget half-way through the year.
When the matter of the vehicle purchase was put to the vote, the motion carried, with Davis and Murray opposed.
Hybrid meetings discussed
Janice Hagan, executive assistant, presented a report to the SVCA board on hybrid meetings.
The board has been conducting meetings via Zoom, after the SVCA’s bylaws were amended to permit electronic meetings during a declared state of emergency.
The COVID-19 emergency is now over. In March of this year, the board directed staff to look at options for conducting “hybrid” meetings, with some directors and staff present at the offices in Formosa, and other attending remotely.
Quotes were received from three contractors about setting up the meeting room with microphones, speakers, camera, video display and other necessary items.
Quotations varied between $10,000 and $35,000 including a monthly Zoom subscription.
The recommendation was for meetings to continue to be conducted remotely, the situation to be reviewed following the municipal elections in October.
New staff introduced
Several new staff members have been hired by the SVCA, some to fill permanent positions and others for contract positions.
Stephens introduced them during her report to the board on May 19:
- Elise MacLeod – manager, water resources (permanent)
- Jeremy Harbinson – water resources technician (12-month maternity leave contract)
- Nicole Gibson – water resources technician (18-month NWMO contract)
- Jody Duncan – water resources technician (18-month NWMO contract)
- Stacey van Opstal – co-ordinator, flood forecasting and warning (permanent)
- Jilliana Wiersma – lands technician (permanent)
- Ashley Richards – co-ordinator, communications (permanent)
A regulations officer position remains vacant, but it’s hoped the position will be filled in June.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times