ERCA budget approved with small increase to ratepayers

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Board members with the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) approved its 2016 budget last Thursday night by a nearly unanimous vote.

Only Windsor city councillor Fred Francis opposed the passage of the 2016 ERCA budget, with that budget seeing an overall increase of 65 cents for a home assessed at $200,000. That means homes valued at that amount will be asked to pay $15.57.

Francis requested the capital and operation reserve be reduced by $90,000 while the funding for land acquisition by cut by $50,000 to eliminate any need for a levy increase.

ERCA general manager Richard Wyma noted the board set up a sustainability plan so that an operational deficit could be overcome and to deal with infrastructure needs that came up.

“The board set up the reserve programs so we wouldn’t be in a situation where future generations would not be in a position to offset infrastructure costs today,” he said.

Removing funds from the program would stall infrastructure projects down the road, he believed.

Councillor Rick Fryer noted the budget came before Amherstburg council recently with town council being in favor of it.

“For every $1 we put in, we get close to $4 back,” said Fryer.

ERCA logo

ERCA’s budget targets phosphorus reduction, a phragmites control pilot project, creation of new wetlands and significant trail construction for 2016.

“The approved 2016 budget totals $8.4 million, with a levy contribution from municipalities of about 2.9 million,” Wyma later added in a press release. “This continues to demonstrate the excellent value that ERCA provides to our member municipalities and the creativity and innovation that we are able to implement in funding important conservation work for this region.”

Wyma noted that upon completion of the Cypher Systems Greenway – which was funded through the efforts of the Essex Region Conservation Foundation, donations, corporate support and a Canada 150 grant – more than 70 kilometres of greenway trail will have been acquired and developed for the benefit of residents “at no cost to municipal taxpayers.”

ERCA will coordinate the development of stormwater management guidelines to provide consistency for stormwater submissions throughout the region at a substantial cost savings to municipalities; and will also deliver Risk Management Services.

“Absent ERCA’s role, each municipality would have to train and fund their own staff and risk management program to comply with the Clean Water Act,” Wyma explained.  “As well, ERCA successfully lobbied and advocated for broader access to provincial Source Protection Municipal Implementation Funding for all municipalities in the Essex Region, significantly reducing costs for municipal program delivery for three years.”

ERCA states that it “has already launched a new Specialist High Skills Majors certification program and in the spring, will host a Lake Erie Student Conference to connect secondary school students, teachers and Great Lakes professionals with environmental challenges in the western Lake Erie basin and highlight Great Lakes related career opportunities across a broad spectrum of professions.”

ERCA will also restore at least 125 acres of land, plant 120,000 trees and 20 acres of prairie habitat.  Work is already underway to create five new acres of wetlands that will help restore hydrology, improve water quality and habitat for wildlife and fish. ERCA states it will work with partners to undertake a Detroit River Fish Habitat Study to assess the type, location and approximate cost of coastal or in-water habitat structures to be used to target priority projects; and will implement projects and research to reduce phosphorus loadings to Lake Erie, including the analysis of water control structures for tile drainage management, rain gardens for urban storm water management, urban and rural Low Impact Development (LID) projects and the research of innovative farming practices and best management practices.

Wyma stated in his report to the board that ERCA’s operational deficit was at $437,000 at the end of 2012 but is on track to be at $96,000 at end of 2016 “which is on track with the sustainability plan.”

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