What gets chopped next?

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY RICHARD MAHONEY News Staff

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.

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