What gets chopped next?
Raisin Region Conservation Authority General Manager Richard Pilon has a simple message for the Ontario government: “If you are going to make more cuts, tell us now.”
Like all conservation agencies in Ontario, the RRCA has seen its natural hazards funding from the province halved. The RRCA’s provincial envelope will shrink from $170,000 to $85,000 this year. While that reduction will have an immediate impact on all conservation agencies, Mr. Pilon notes that there is also concern about the long-term effects of the austerity measures.
“The big question is what is the plan moving forward?”
If provincial funding reductions are to be in place next year as well, agencies should be at least afforded time to prepare for the shock, notes Mr. Pilon.
With a $2.5 million budget, the loss of $85,000 is significant. The cut means that the RRCA will have to eliminate two summer jobs.
The RRCA, whose fiscal year begins in January, had an inkling that some bad news was coming, since the cost-cutting government had begun reviewing the efficiency of CAs.
“We were expecting some cuts,” relates Mr. Pilon. Yet, he was “really surprised” when the new Ontario budget contained a 50 per cent chop to the $7.4 million that had been shared by the 36 conservation authorities.
The RRCA ought to be able to weather the fiscal storm in 2019. “We should be OK this year; we have a healthy reserve. But it is the 2020 budget I am more worried about,” observes Mr. Pilon.
Member municipalities -- North and South Glengarry, North and South Stormont, and Cornwall -- contribute about $800,000 to the coffers.
“We are all for efficiency, but it all depends on how that translates into boots-on-the-ground services,” says Mr. Pilon.
In this region, flood monitoring is provided by the Raisin Region and South Nation authorities.
But the agencies are also involved in many fields, such as managing conservation areas, recreational trails and providing inspection services.
The core business of the RRCA is flood control, plan review, habitat management and enhancement, water quality monitoring and reporting and pollution prevention.
Further financial repercussions could be felt as the government scrutinizes the CAs with a goal of ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being used effectively.
The province wants to update how conservation authorities use municipal levies to pay for programs and services, while it also streamlines and standardizes the
role conservation authorities play in issuing permits and municipal planning, reducing overlap and making approvals faster and less costly.
Mr. Pilon recalls that in 1997, the government reduced transfer payments to the CAs. Funding was never fully restored.
Tree program axed
A major casualty of the province’s financial compressions has been the 50 Million Tree Program, which had a budget of about $4.7 million. Forests Ontario, with the help of conservation authorities, had assisted about 4,000 landowners plant about 27 million trees since 2008.
Forests Ontario expects to find a way, with existing and new partners, to plant trees, educate Ontarians and speak for the forest and all forest users, the tree planting and forest advocacy group says. “This cutting of the 50 MTP has generated unprecedented concern about the future of tree planting in Ontario and an outpouring of support for Forests Ontario’s efforts,” said Rob Keen, chief executive of Forests Ontario.