General municipal levy up 2.5% as GRCA approves 2021 budget

CAMBRIDGE – The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) will spend almost $32 million this year through a 2021 budget approved by the authority’s board of directors on Feb. 26.

The board is made up of 26 members appointed by the municipalities in the Grand River watershed, including six in Wellington County.

The general levy to municipalities in the watershed is increasing by 2.5 per cent to $12,225,000 in 2021. However the levy to individual municipalities is based on their apportionment of assessment within the watershed so Mapleton will see the highest levy increase at 5.5%, while Wellington North’s will go up by 4.4%, Puslinch by 3.5%, Centre Wellington’s by 2.5%, Guelph Eramosa’s by 2.7% and Erin’s 1.5 per cent.

The 2021 levy for Wellington County municipalities will be:

-Centre Wellington, $308, 584;

-Guelph-Eramosa, $171,662;

– Puslinch, 121,518;

– Mapleton, $103,123;

– Erin, $75,545; and

– Wellington North, $55,734.

The authority states in a March 1 press release the budgeted funds will be spent on programs that “protect life and minimize property damage from flooding and erosion, improve the health of the Grand River watershed, connect people to the environment through outdoor experiences and manage its land holdings responsibly and sustainably.”

Municipalities will contribute about $12.2 million in general municipal levy to the GRCA in 2021; about 38% of the GRCA’s total budget. The municipal levy increase of 2.5%, works out to an average of approximately $11.09 per watershed resident; an increase of 12 cents per watershed resident in comparison to the 2020 budget. The municipal levy portion of the budget is allocated to each member municipality using the “Modified Current Value Assessment” as outlined under Regulation 670/00 of the Conservation Authorities Act.

Other federal, provincial and municipal government grants totalling just over $3.5 million represent 11 per cent of the budget. This includes funding for major maintenance of water control structures, the source protection program, floodplain mapping projects and rural water quality landowner grants.

The GRCA generates about 43% of its own revenue through sources such as camping fees, park admissions, nature centre programs, hydro sales, property rentals, tree sales, planning permits and donations raised by the Grand River Conservation Foundation (GRCF).

Eight per cent of the total budget in 2021 will come from GRCA reserves.

“The GRCA, like all conservation authorities and organizations across the province, continues to face a number of challenges in 2021,” says GRCA chair Chris White. “This budget focuses on maintaining the programs and services that deliver on our strategic priorities and our shared vision of a healthy watershed, while taking into consideration the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the evolving role of conservation authorities in Ontario.”

In 2021, the GRCA’s capital spending budget for water resources planning includes expenditures for water quality monitoring equipment, software systems and gauge equipment for its flood forecasting and warning program, as well as major maintenance for dams and dikes. Conservation area capital spending includes expenditures as part of the regular maintenance program, as well as spending on major repairs and new construction. In 2021, some of the major capital projects planned within the conservation areas include: expansion of the north side gate house and new fencing at Elora Gorge, and bridge replacement and Harris Mill masonry repairs at Rockwood.

The GRCA continues to work on the updates and implementation of a Drinking Water Source Protection Plan for each of the four watersheds in the Lake Erie Source Protection Region, including the Grand River watershed, as part of the provincial Source Protection Program under the Clean Water Act, 2006. Along with supporting municipalities and other agencies in implementing the plans, the focus in 2021 will continue to be completing updates to the Grand River Source Protection Plan. This includes developing water quantity policies, updating water quality vulnerability assessments, and developing the annual progress report for the Grand River Source Protection Plan.

In April 2018, the GRCA received approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to use up to $1.8 million from its Land Sale Reserve for hazard tree management over a three year period. This funding has allowed the GRCA to accelerate its program of tree risk management to ensure the health and safety of the public using GRCA lands. Use of this funding is approved until March 31, 2021.

Pandemic challenges

In 2021, officials state, the GRCA will continue to manage challenges resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Self-generated revenues impacted significantly by the pandemic are Conservation Area operations and the Outdoor Environmental Education program.