Council making plans to stem tide of rising conservation levies

Once again, Wellington North councillors are trying to dam up a river of conservation authority levy increases.

When the 2009 draft budget information for the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) came to council, it included yet another increase.

Last year Wellington North paid $47,038 to the SVCA, and this year a proposed increase of $4,058 will take that number over the $51,000 mark. On the surface, it might not sound like much, but only 33% of the township lies within the Saugeen River watershed.

The remainder is divided among the Maitland and Grand River watersheds, both of which in recent years have also presented council with increased levies.

Council’s reaction started with Mayor Mike Broomhead, who noted that last year at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, municipal representatives spoke to Minister Donna Cansfield about conservation authorities and fees.

Broomhead said it was quite interesting to see the figures Cansfield supplied regarding funding to conservation authorities, in light of ongoing arguments with the conservation authorities about shortfalls over the long term. He noted Cansfield provided just as many examples of funding provided in areas where the government felt it should be directed.

“Once again, letters were sent off from this office saying we need to meet together with the representatives,” Broomhead said. “We have gone out on our own, but again the conservation authorities have not taken up the offer.”

He said it seems for some reason the conservation authorities “are reluctant to have the local politicians who are incurring these levy increases in­volved in meeting ministry representatives.

“As each year goes on, I get a little bit more aggravated,” he said, questioning why conservation authorities would not want the support.

Broomhead added when Well­ington North has tried to influence the government, it has taken along as many supporters as possible. “I can’t understand why the conservation authorities are so reluctant to take local municipality representatives … or encouraging them.”

He said it was difficult during the meeting with Cansfield, because there was no one to contradict the information presented.

“You guys in the press are probably getting tired of my rant every year, but it’s getting totally frustrating. I say that we say ‘no’ to this increase until we are brought in as willing participants in lobbying the government.”

He said local municipal politicians need to be brought into those meetings. Broomhead quipped that he might need to sit as a member of one of the conservation authority boards one of these days to get the message across.

Councillor Ross Chaulk suggested it might be the only way to get it fixed.

“We complain every year, and every year they ram it down our throats. Can we refuse to pay it, and what would be the consequences?” he asked.

Broomhead said representatives could be brought in again to explain; however Yake said, “They’re going to give us the song and dance that the pro­vince isn’t helping them out.”

Yake noted the province is not helping local municipalities with aspects of health care, either.

“Ultimately they walked away from here and they don’t change a thing. Nothing will change their minds,” he said.

“You can bring them here, but if we’ve finally decided we’ve had enough, send them a letter that we’re not satisfied.”

Chaulk agreed that the representatives would come with a “dog and pony show and at the end of the night, nothing would be solved.”

He asked if this is the year council draws a line and tell the conservation authority how much the municipality is ready to provide. “I’m sure we’d get support from a lot of municipalities in Ontario,” Chaulk said.

The letter to be drafted is not a letter of invitation, but a statement of council’s opinion.

At a subsequent meeting, council received letters from the Maitland Valley and the Grand River Conservation Auth­orities – both of which are proposing levy increases.

Councillor John Matusinec recommended sending similar letters to those authorities.

“There’s no sense dwelling on this,” he said.

Broomhead said he had yet to hear back from the SVCA on the letter he sent.

He said of the 11 ministerial meetings requested at the com­ing Good Roads Asso­ciation conference – one of them was to deal with conservation authority issues.

He suggested if that meeting is approved, he would like to send out a flash email to have others show up with them.

“There are two sides to the conservation story,” Broomhead said.

He believes everyone should hear the same message – at the same time.