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Town council authorizes administration to amend ERCA funding agreement

 


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Amherstburg town council has unanimously approved authorized administration to sign an amended funding agreement with the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA).


An amended non-mandatory cost apportioning agreement met with Amherstburg's approval during Monday night's town council meeting. In her report to council, CAO Valerie Critchley noted the ERCA CAO Tim Byrne made a presentation Nov. 13 regarding new arrangements for non-mandatory programs and services and the need for a separate agreement with municipalities to cost share for items identified. An amended agreement was required after Windsor and Tecumseh opted not to move forward with the land acquisition fund.


“Subsequent to the decision made by the City of Windsor, ERCA decided to remove the Agricultural Stewardship & Outreach program from the suite of non-mandatory programs levied in 2024, pending a full analysis of this program area over the next 12 months. As the City of Windsor and the Town of Tecumseh have now withdrawn from the land acquisition fund for 2024, the remaining member municipalities must now determine at  what level, if any, they wish to support the fund. In place of contributing to this fund, the city decided to create its own reserve fund in support of land acquisition and protection. ERCA has noted that this decision disrupts the 20+ year model of the Clean Water-Green Spaces Program by removing approximately 51 per cent of the funding and this component of the non-mandatory programs and services which accounts for over half of the $900,000 estimated annual budget,” Critchley wrote. “Following the decision by the City, the Town of Tecumseh determined that it would suspend its contribution to this fund pending a review by its administration of the program and possible alternatives for ecological stewardship over the next year. Without Windsor and Tecumseh’s contributions, the remaining municipalities would contribute up to $215,550 should they continue at the same levels of support. For Amherstburg, the 2024 allocation is $30,712.”


Councillor Linden Crain wanted to know the downside of following the process Tecumseh and Windsor took. Critchley said it was at the discretion of council but if funding was withheld, administration would have to do its due diligence, something she said Tecumseh is doing.


“The funds will either be used for projects if ERCA has applicable projects this year or held in a reserve if they don't,” she said.


Critchley said most municipalities are taking part due to success of the program in the past and recommended waiting for more information from Tecumseh.


Contributions to the fund would stay there and accumulate until ERCA has enough money for projects. Critchley added the problem now is Windsor contributed to half of it, making it take longer for money to add up for works.


“This program has worked very well for many years, said Mayor Michael Prue. “I am disappointed with Tecumseh. I am not surprised with the City of Windsor.”Prue said it seemed “rational and logical” to stay in the program and evaluate at year's end.


“At the end of the year, we will see Tecumseh’s rational, what they've discovered and if it's a program they want to opt back in or not,” said Prue.


Prue added if someone looks around the county and see where the funding has been utilized for river and stream improvements, keeping woodlots and other programs, “it's a very environmentally friendly and good fund.”


“Let's hope at the end of the year, when we get the report, the rationale will all come forward,” said Prue. “I think, in the meantime, I'd rather stay in than opt out. I'm not one of those naysayers that looks at that and says 'we're opting out for a year to determine.' I think better to look at it to determine and stay in. That's where I'm coming from.”


Councillor Peter Courtney emphasized the word “region” in Essex Region Conservation Authority. He sits on the ERCA board of directors with Councillor Molly Allaire. He took a dig at the provincial government in the process.


“What happened with our brainiacs up the road starting to dictate conservation authority's need to decipher between core and non-core mandated services for transparency to show all of the municipalities what they are getting for bang for their buck,” he said. “That's where everyone has become enlightened and thank you to staff for recommending to leave us in.”


Windsor bowing out “threw the wrench in the bike spokes, so to speak,” added Courtney. “Everyone else was on board. This is an all or nothing thing. The conservation authority acts for the whole region.”


Courtney added the land acquisition fund helps fund purchases of cycling and pedestrian trails, adding it is easier to fund when the money is already in one account.


“Shame on Windsor,” he said. “They've wrecked a good system here. I'm shocked Tecumseh jumped on board. I'm flabbergasted. I can't wait to find the rationale there.”There is no cost increase this year, Courtney added, and a regional system works best when everyone believes and commits in it.


Non-core items are the “icing and cherries on the cake” and while ERCA's funding could be cut to “drains and things like that and forget about John R. Park Homestead, forget about Holiday Beach and do away with all that good stuff and kids programs. That is what the province tried to do and unfortunately some bit on that. Some city councillors have been very anti-ERCA. I won't say who, don't have to, but the proof is in the pudding. It's an uphill battle.”


Municipalities holding their money doesn't work, Courtney believed, and he said they need to look at the whole region regardless of where in the region it is.


“I fully stand behind contributing the same amount of money to this reserve,” said Courtney.


Councillor Diane Pouget said ERCA “does major good work” and supported the motion. She wondered if county council took a stand on it with Prue and Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb not recalling anything being discussed. Courtney said the municipalities contribute to the ERCA tax levels, and “the county has no purview over ERCA” and no county tax dollars are factored in.


“I do think it's a valuable program,” Councillor Don McArthur said, in support of the motion and the land acquisition fund. “I think Amherstburg has benefitted from ERCA land we can enjoy. I do find it a little disheartening and a little disquieting when you have municipalities in the region picking and choosing which regional programs they are going to fund and belong to. I think it sets a dangerous precedent, particularly when it comes to the environment.”


McArthur believed saving a woodlot in Amherstburg, Tecumseh or Essex or preserving a watershed in Windsor, Amherstburg, Kingsville or Essex benefits all.


“It's a regional environment,” said McArthur. “What's good for one is good for all.”


By Ron Giofu

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