Property donation to NVCA on hold because of dissolution motion
New Tecumseth Free Press Online
New Tecumseth’s representative on the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) board of directors told council Monday night a land donation is being held up as a result of uncertainty surrounding the motion to dissolve the organization led by the mayor of Essa Township.
“Property that was to be given to NVCA in this area, worth over $700,000, and it would be kept as a natural area, and be valuable to many entities in our town, and now with all the publicity on dissolution, the negotiations have just halted,” revealed Joan Sutherland, a former deputy mayor of New Tecumseth. “So it would be a great loss, because it was a wonderful property.”
Ms. Sutherland, whose elected municipal career included serving as Reeve of the former Village of Tottenham, and Simcoe County Warden, did not divulge any property details.
Her deputation followed those of Essa mayor David Guergis’s address to council explaining why he was pushing for the NVCA to be replaced by an environmental association of municipalities in the watershed. He was supported by Oro mayor Harry Hughes who’s taking a front runner’s role ahead of his council, which he admitted had not formally discussed such an action.
In fact, one of his councillors, Sandy Agnew, also addressed New Tecumseth, but in support of the NVCA. He noted he’d been expressing his own opinions.
Ms. Sutherland told councillors she was taken aback that dissolution discussions had reached the Town.
“I didn’t realize that problems with New Tecumseth are to such a degree that we’re discussing what we are tonight,” she said. “When I as a member, was never told there are problems, I don’t know if there were huge problems, but we could have addressed them at the board.”
Mayor Guergis, who brought along mayor Hughes, was invited to address New Tecumseth council by Ward 5 councillor Jess Prothero, to provide information regarding his motion, which is on Essa council’s agenda tonight, and not expected to be approved if it comes to a vote.
Mr. Guergis told New Tecumseth council that he’s not out to change the planning and restrictions policies, but to gain control of a process which he refers to as a “third planning department.”
“I think we need some type of a solution. Currently in the south we fund three planning departments. We fund our own at the municipal level, we fund the County, and we’re funding the NVCA planning department,” he said. “Let me make myself clear, I’m not talking about changing the plan. I’m just talking about how many people do you need to do that? (The Severn Sound Association) have 10 employees in the north that handle it through Severn Sound and the last look at the web site of the NVCA, there are 34 employees. I’m not not talking about any less planning, and as a matter of fact, what I’d really like to propose with my proposal is, if there are any savings to be had, and I’d be willing to go back to my council and request a lot more money into the environment, not into a monster planning department and all that stuff.”
Mayor Guergis wants the watershed communities to form an association of municipalities in place of the NVCA as a way to streamline the planning process and take back control of a budget and fee system he noted has increased his township’s costs by 250 per cent since 2000.
But that was a nonstarter for Ward 5 councillor Jim Stone, who said the 18 municipal members already had control of the authority through its board representatives. He did however, agree “the bureaucracy is growing. It’s always growing.”
“I think it should remain an Authority, and we control that authority. Maybe through our representatives we can fine tune it. But we have to have that Authority to make things happen, to set standards,” said Mr. Stone. “If they’re expanding the flood plain, then that’s a different problem. What I’m saying is there’s a difference between an Association and Authority. There has to be some standards set for all municipalities in the watershed, and they (NVCA) have to have authority to enforce them.”
Mayor Hughes said Oro-Medonte belongs to the Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA) along with Orillia and Severn Sound. But in 2002 voted to add the NVCA as an enforcement arm.
Mr. Hughes said in 2002, before the NVCA, they were paying about $35,000 for all environmental services in Oro-Medonte. With the NVCA, that’s now up to $256,000 “an increase over time of 743 per cent,” said mayor Hughes.
“I don’t know who can operate a municipality or a system with those kind of increases. And the whole question of sustainability, and can we keep on doing it, has to enter our mind. Don’t forget there are permit fees on top of that makes that higher.”
Fred Nix, past chair of the NVCA, told council that mayor Hughes dollar amounts were not being disputed, but that Oro-Medonte entered into the authority in the midst of provincial downloading which cost the authority nearly $400,000 in cuts to transfers. He also reiterated the difference between an Association and Authority was enshrined in multiple pieces of legislation.
“They don’t come close to doing what we do in a legal sense in land use planning,” said Mr. Nix. “In addition to the CA Act and Municipal Act we have 13 pieces of legislation that determine what we have to do, that’s our mandate. (SSEA) doesn’t have that mandate. It is true it’s an expensive mandate to carry out. I’m not going to dispute that.”
NVCA CEO Wayne Wilson, said the Associations also don’t have the same level of environmental expertise as conservation authorities employ.
Mr. Wilson expanded on councillor Stone’s example of Hurricane Hazel and the devastation it caused because of lax standards decades ago.
“The (CA Act) in working with each of the municipalities ensures that the development occurs in a manner that is safe and does not cause problems down the stream,” said Mr. Wilson. “So, an individual municipality while it may be able to provide some local bylaws to protect local environments there’s no ability for that individual municipality to say to the municipality upstream ‘hey, you cut that out. You’re doing something upstream that’s causing a problem.’ And that’s why the (CA Act) works so well, because it’s based on the watershed. So unless you manage on a watershed you can not protect the interests of a watershed.”
To mayor Hughes’ point that this exercise has confirmed the NVCA only employs two people to handle enforcement, who also issue permits, on behalf of the 18 municipal members, Mr. Wilson countered by suggesting their role was to protect the environment.
“Environmental protection is what we promise, not enforcement. And there’s a huge difference. Environmental protection means protecting the environment you have. We have 22 staff. We have water resource engineers, we have professional foresters, we have hydro geologists, we have fishing habitat specialists. None of those experts are in the (SSEA) and those are some of the staff that provide the expertise that’s required.”
He noted the NVCA is currently working on a streamlining plan that will address duplication and the issue of fees for service, and that report will include input from the municipalities.
Ward 5 councillor Prothero said his invitation to mayor Guergis was nothing more than to understand what the issues are because there are common complaints.
“After reading some of things going on, and as we know every year at budget time we sit around and grumble about the amount we give to the NVCA, so to say this is new coming what I’ve done by inviting them seeking outside opinion on this I think is just being responsible to the taxpayer.”
In the end Town staff was directed to prepare a report on the matter, its implications for New Tecumseth, and include a comparison of the NVCA and the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority.