Essex Region – The Essex Region Conservation Authority has approved its 2021 Draft Budget for circulation to its member municipalities. The budget totals just over $10 million, and includes a levy request of $3,454,619. This is equivalent to $10.75 per person, an increase of 26 cents from 2020.
The budget responds to the changes to Conservation Authorities Act included in Bill 229, which have widespread and significant implications for operations and program delivery with provincially-required identification and bifurcation of services into mandatory and non-mandatory categories.
“The proposed 2021 programs and services have been categorized into mandatory and non-mandatory services, based on the information that is currently available and in the absence of detailed Regulations, or further guidance from the Province,” explains Tim Byrne, CAO. “The mandatory programs identified by the Act are quite limited and confined to: risks of natural hazards; conservation and management of lands; Drinking Water Source Protection; and other duties and responsibilities under other legislation.”
The draft budget includes a reallocation of funding from non-mandatory services, using Covid-19-related service and staffing reductions as an opportunity to pivot and redirect levy from outreach/events/communications to mandated functions, primarily in watershed management and corporate services.
Improving business processes, updating IT infrastructure and information systems, completing a floodplain prioritization study, addressing hazards and restoration issues related to high lake levels, significant rainfall events and climate change, restoring over 125 acres of natural habitat, and completing a significant habitat restoration and shoreline protection project on Pêche Island, in partnership with the City of Windsor, are just some of the top priorities ERCA has outlined for 2021.
The Authority is currently developing a funding transition plan, in accordance with the legislated requirements of the revised Act and concurrently will develop an updated Sustainability and Strategic Plan, to align with provincial implementation timelines.
“Following this transitional year, any approved non-mandatory services will need to be funded with either fees, grants, donations or where levy may still be required, individual municipal agreements,” Byrne added. “According to the current interpretation of the Act, restoration work on non-Conservation Authority owned lands, water quality monitoring, recreation programs, museum operations and education and outreach services would be subject to these conditions.”
Chair Tania Jobin believes that ERCA is best positioned to deliver regional environmental priorities in a cost effective way.
“The expertise that ERCA provides in regards to managing our watersheds is an effective and efficient way of ensuring our sustainably as a region,” she says. “For each municipality to individually employ this type of expertise on its own would be cost prohibitive. What’s more, ERCA has a longstanding track record of providing a significant return on investment through outside investments in our region, in addition to its important programs and services.”
The Essex Region Conservation Authority is a public sector organization established by the Province in 1973, and governed by local municipalities, to provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario.