The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) have proposed a new budget going from $20 million to $24 million by the year 2020 and this has some municipalities objecting.
At the last UTRCA meeting, Mayor Al Strathdee along with Perth South Mayor Bob Wilhelm, Perth South Treasurer/Deputy Clerk Rebecca Clothier and Board rep Tony Jackson attended to voice their concerns. Mayor Strathdee told the Independent that the system is “unfair and controlled by the City of London. There are 17 Municipalities in the UTRCA, including London, but London has four members on the Board and because of a weighted vote have 50% of the vote. Mayor Strathdee said the problem with increases like the proposed one from UTRCA is that the Province is cutting back on transfer grants which puts an extra burden on municipalities. For Perth South, it is even more difficult because they are paying 100% assessment on farmland, and only collecting 25% assessment due to provincial regulations, therefore if farm values soar, they pay 12% more. In 2018 the Town was assessed $95,920.
Tony Jackson, who is the Board Rep. for St. Marys, Perth South and South Huron combined, made a presentation to the Board and the highlights are below:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to speak to fellow Board members, member Municipal representatives both council members and appointees with respect to the 2019 budget proposal.
Let me start by recalling a statement from a couple board meetings ago where in concluding the last regular board meeting it was suggested that the 4 year term of the sitting board enjoyed a “golden era” for the UTRCA. This appears to be true given the last few years of increase in levy and the operational budget of this CA but realistically while we are enjoying the “Golden Era” many of our member municipalities are cutting back, struggling, and looking up from the bottomless pit begging for crumbs to keep services of roads, policing, and emergency services operating at a basic and sustainable level. Other needs, infrastructure improvements, and community asks are simply not possible. Outside of “our little bubble” in the real world as one councilor noted, doing more with less is the motto… so, as much as I hear around here the argument that the status quo isn’t good enough and “we need more to do more” I know how struggling municipalities and council members must feel.
The goal to achieve our environmental targets strategic plan, I would argue, we have already broken out and status quo is already in the rear view mirror? Quite simply, we left the starting line two years ago and we should appreciate that in itself as a win.
It strikes me that not unlike industry there are good years with lots of business and great profits, and there are some not so good years with reduced business and competitive pressures that prevent maximizing profits. Not to suggest our business is about profits but I am suggesting that our customers and partners are the strength of our business and paying attention to their challenges is a sure formula to longevity, setting objectives, and achieving goals long term. We need to listen to the needs of the member municipalities of the UTRCA and balance those needs with capabilities and capacity.
I will strongly suggest if we do not do that, we isolate, disenfranchise and disrespect the value that each member municipality brings to the table.
To balance those interests is no easy task as we try to make decisions in the best interests of the CA, that represent the varied interests, and may I say the bias of personal preferences, and finally the needs of our specific municipalities as diverse as they are. Even more challenging is governance model and weighted formula that gives “superior authority” (perceived or real) to one member over others.
There are a couple things that I do know for sure.
First of all, pigs can’t fly; and secondly, if we are to be successful in our objectives we need the support of farmers, rural and small town Ontario. One thing that I really haven’t figured out yet is why when we know that owners of bushlots, agriculutural fields, empty factories, these property owners are recognized and pay different tax rates from their residence, active commercial buildings, etc.
Now unless I am wrong, from a CA levy perspective the value of MPAC assessment, full assessment, unadjusted, is applied to the Municipality. I really think if we want willing landowners, participants and support to achieve our objectives this is one area that needs to be fixed. On top of this full value-levy application it is perceived that our regulations restrict land use and development. With respect to this tax/levy issue I quickly think of St. Marys or Perth South for example where two very large industrial facilities are and will be vacant in the very near future. The tax revenue to the municipalities is certainly compromised when this happens, yet building value remains. It’s complicated but Municipal tax rates vary by use and occupancy. This affects a municipalities ability to pay levy and an adjustment should be made in parallel to the tax revenue that the Municipality collects. It’s complicated and won’t be fixed today but needs to be investigated.
I also have to disclose that I am not the most proficient when it comes to math and numbers however somehow in my career and other extra circular interests I often find myself in roles where numbers dominate the discussion. Numbers are of particular importance to our discussion and meeting today, so rather than avoid the challenge I will try to present what I feel is important for us to consider given the importance of the decision before us today.
Let me start with a little history for the Board members new and old here today.
Let me remind you where we have been in recent years:
Feb 2016 – $13,650,000
Feb 2017 – $17,900,000
Feb 2018 – $22,000,000
That’s right, about 8 million in 3 years.
Let me also provide some background on what the City of London originally received as a 4 year plan for budget.
Feb 2016 – $2.8 million
Feb 2017 – $2.9 million
Feb 2018 – $3.0 million
Feb 2019 – $3.06 million
(Actual 5+million by 2018)
Its no secret given the challenges of the day for many member municipalities I specifically asked that the board consider deferring the implementation of the full levy increase specifically to remove the Environmental Targets strategic plan portion for at least 2019 but obviously I failed to articulate the need and the value in doing so, so the draft budget continued with the $288,000 levy request included for the municipalities. Today you heard from member municipalities making a plea for common sense and balance in our approach to already overwhelming struggles. Keep in mind no one is asking us to compromise our base budget or stop delivering essential services that we and member municipalities recognize as successful and important in the protection of people and property within our jurisdiction.
I often hear us compared to other conservation authorities where I often ignore knowing what services we provide and the quality of staff we have but in fairness to my own peace of mind I did endeavor to do a fact-check and comparison. Comparing a neighbor CA in reality is only that, a comparison of numbers and does not suggest the member municipalities have similar challenges or advantages but was interesting none the less.
Lets look at the draft budget itself. If we look at the $288,000 potential levy increase for the environmental targets and were to remove it from this years budget do you realize we would still have 1.64 million dollars in just 3 years or 85% of our target funding specifically for the enhanced efforts above and beyond the present operating budget? That’s an incredible step forward and only impacts the overall budget by 1.37% but saves the municipalities on average 6% on general levy and resulting in a year over year increase of only $5806 or .1% increase in “total municipal operational funding”. It would not, in any way negatively impact the basic and continuing services of the UTRCA or the “total municipal capital funding” AND, with the already secured funding for the environmental targets, is hardly what I would call status quo… in fact it sees the yardstick continuing to move forward toward long term objectives while at the same time gives some relief to already strained budgets of member municipalities.
So, to wrap things up, as I suggest we defer the levy component of the environmental targets strategic plan being $288,000: I ask each member of this board to think of our member municipalities, to reflect on the success this board has realized, to consider the benefit and value to the organization and the aggressive goals and the incredible accomplishments already achieved, to recognize there is no compromise to staff or our capability to perform and support our core mandate or to continue what we have been doing, to recognize that achieving 85% of the 3 year funding goal is a substantial win, and to know that the impact of deferral for a short period of time is nothing more than a different road to the ends of the organization without imposing undue hardship on our strategic partners. A deviation from the draft budget here is more infrequent than frequent but in this case I firmly believe it is warranted.
I must be clear, I cannot support the budget in its draft format at this time with the inclusion of the $288,000 as being in the best interest of UTRCA or the member municipalities.