Halton budget proposes minor dip in levy for Puslinch Township residents

ABERFOYLE – ’s 2020 budget is good news for Puslinch residents.

Even though the municipal  portion of funding for 2020 is rising 1.5 per cent (from $9,977,998 to $10,124,311) , the Puslinch share of the levy is dropping by $176 ($22,000 for 2020 and $22,176 for 2019).

Puslinch represents only 0.22% of municipal funding of the conservation authority.

On Dec. 4, Conservation Halton CAO Hassaan Basit spoke on the status of the conservation authority and the proposed 2020 budget.

The budget is set at $35,197,886 of which $20,233,578 is funded through programs revenue, chargeback and reserves (58%), municipal funding of $10,124,317 (29%), other funding (10%) and overall provincial funding (3%).

Basit stated 2020 priorities include: floodplain mapping, capital infrastructure, digital transformation, financial sustainability and service delivery.

He noted 2020 marks the third year in a row the conservation authority anticipates more than one million visitors.

By comparison, Basit said annual visits to the CN Tower are about 1.5 million.

“Our parks are a great asset and value to the community,” he said, adding the conservation authority education programs continue to grow.

“There is a huge demand for good outdoor education programs and venues,” he said.

Basit noted recent news that Ontario was requesting conservation authorities scale back operations to core and mandatory programs.

He stated none of Halton Conservation’s park operations are tax funded.

Basit said pressures for 2020 include: population growth, aging infrastructure, changing technology, financial sustainability, service delivery and carbon footprint of its operations.

He noted mid-year provincial funding cuts were absorbed by the conservation authority without passing the impact on to municipalities.

Even the 2020 budget with a 1.5% increase is below regional guidelines, he said.

Basit added the budget continues to set aside funds for dams and channel infrastructure.

Councillor Jessica Goyda had no questions on the budget, but rather on provincial changes regarding funding.

She noted earlier this year the province had sent out a memo recommending conservation authorities begin to wind down their non-mandatory programs.

“To my mind, conservation authorities are really our first line of defense when it comes to climate change,” she said.

Even within the Dec. 4 agenda package, Goyda noted there were Ontario municipalities declaring climate emergencies.

“I find it a little confusing the provincial government would want to jeopardize that by funding cuts,” she added.

Considering the province only provides 3% of the funds for the Halton Conservation Authority, Goyda questions what the province hopes to gain.

She asked what is being considered as mandatory and non-mandatory programs?

Basit said the memo  received by the conservation authority seemed vague.

He said Halton municipal leaders wrote a letter to the province asking what consultation occurred before issuing the memo.

Further, Basit asked why the conservation authority would remove itself from programs that make money and take the burden off the taxpayer.

He also stated the ability to manage its lands is considered as one of the core mandates.

He said “if all of the core programs shift to a tax levy, we would be looking at adding another $18 to $19 million onto the municipal levy.”

Basit said the province later offered meetings/consultation.

“Even so, I did not come out of that meeting with a feeling of what problem they were trying to resolve,” he said.

He asked if sticking to core services means eliminating programs which actually generate revenue, or focusing the scope of plan reviews.

Basit said as things change, certain programs tend to get layered upon, and he believes it is a good idea to step back and look at that.

“It is difficult to know what program they are trying to solve and which programs we should be focussing on,” he said.

Conservation authorities may be one of the most reviewed bodies in the province.

Basit said the last time the Conservation Authorities Act and its regulation were opened up and changed was three years ago.

“Now it is happening again,” he said, suggesting, “Either it is so broken it is unfixable, or there is really nothing to fix.”

He stated he considered the job of conservation authorities relatively simple, “To enable our municipal partners to grow in a sustainable manner in the long term.”