NVCA rates were wrong
Several townships, including Oro-Medonte, were paying more than they should have been
By NATHAN TAYLOR, Orillia Packet AND Times
Oro-Medonte Township, along with other municipalities, has been overpaying the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA).
The wrong percentages were being used to calculate the fees charged to each municipality.
The error will mean many of the NVCA’s 18 member municipalities will be paying less this year.
But there’s no long-term resolution, said Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes.
“There’s no atonement happening here at all. They’re righting a wrong, but there’s no making up for what happened,” he said.
The NVCA should do something to make up for the money Oro-Medonte and other municipalities have been paying — more than necessary, in light of the error — Hughes said.
This year, Oro-Medonte will be paying the NVCA 4.95% ($7,700) less than last year, but Hughes said that’s not enough. He referred to one of the township’s practices as a favourable option.
“If we’ve been overtaxing somebody, we go back two years and rectify it. It would seem reasonable to… go back two years,” Hughes said, adding it’s an issue of accountability. “The only reason we’re paying less is because we’ve been overcharged.”
He acknowledged it might not be realistic for the NVCA to do that in a single year, but “they should consider phasing that in.”
“We do not have any administrative bylaw or procedure like that,” said NVCA CAO Wayne Wilson. “This is the first time we’ve discovered an error like that.”
The problem cropped up when it was discovered the NVCA watershed includes more of Barrie and Innisfil than previously thought.
In 2009, it was believed 23% of Barrie and 28% of Innisfil were in the watershed. However, during the process that saw Barrie annex part of Innisfil, it was revealed the numbers were actually 29% for Barrie and 42% for Innisfil.
The error came to light when the province was looking at both municipalities’ jurisdictions with both the NVCA and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).
What stood out even more was the fact Barrie, before the review, was on record as having 23% in the NVCA and 72% in the LSRCA. With a total of just 95%, it didn’t add up.
“That’s a geographical calculation error made by the province. At the local level, it wasn’t caught,” Wilson said.
The error went unnoticed since at least 1992, which is when Wilson joined the NVCA.
“We’re not blaming anybody. It’s just the way it is,” he said.
The error with Barrie’s numbers could have occurred when the city joined the LSRCA in 2001, he added.
The updated information shows Barrie has 29% with the NVCA and 71% with the LSRCA; Innisfil has 42% with the NVCA and 58% with the LSRCA.
As a result of this revelation, “the range of levy increases for our municipalities is quite variable,” Wilson said.
This year, Barrie’s levy from the NVCA will increase 22% ($52,300) and Innisfil’s will jump 51% ($38,900). But Wilson said there should be corresponding reductions for both municipalities’ LSRCA levies.
The NVCA learned of the error late last year.
“I was in contact with the finance departments of both (Barrie and Innisfil),” Wilson said. “I don’t want anyone to have that surprise.”
As for increasing Barrie and Innisfil’s payments to make up for the past, it would “seem unreasonable” he said, adding, “it’s difficult to go back in time and deal with an issue that is not the fault of those municipalities.”
Barrie Coun. Barry Ward said the levy increase to the city “is fair.”
“We’ve been underpaying,” he said. “Our own (property) assessment is going up. So we can pay more taxes.”
It’s important to note, Hughes said, that while the township will be paying less this year, the amount is only what it should’ve been paying in past.
“It’s important for taxpayers throughout the (NVCA) to know this has taken place,” he said.
It’s also important, Wilson said, to understand the contributions from urban municipalities “support a great many projects that occur in rural municipalities.”
“Not all our members appreciate that.”
Wilson said it would’ve been more appropriate for Hughes to first present his concerns to the conservation authority before talking to the media.
“If that was seen to be an issue, the way to deal with that properly is to come before our board. They would take it very seriously,” he said. “To date, the board has not received any requests for a report to consider that. I find it interesting that discussion can occur that should be occurring before our board.”
The NVCA will be reviewing, debating and voting on its draft budget at a Feb. 12 meeting. Staff is recommending a 3% increase in the municipal levy, which would bring municipal contribution to about $1.8 million — an increase of about $53,000 over last year.
“I believe it’s a fair budget. We’re trying to manage our growth pressures and, at the same time, the board recognizes the economic downturn that has occurred in the past year,” Wilson said.