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ERCA Approves 2024 DRAFT Budget Priorities

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Essex Region – The Essex Region Conservation Authority Board of Directors has approved for circulation and consultation the draft 2024 Budget to member municipalities. For this 2024 budget, municipalities are levied for services identified by the Province as ‘mandatory’. Mandatory services are limited to programs and services related to risks of natural hazards, flood and erosion protection, maintenance of conservation lands, and Source Water protection.  Beneficial programs and services that do not fall within these categories have been identified by the province as Category 3 (non-mandatory programs and services) and require agreements with each municipality for funding.  


Over the past several months, meetings and consultations with all municipalities have taken place regarding the delivery of these services and the resulting cost apportioning agreements. Seven of the nine programs identified by the Board of Directors received unanimous support from all municipalities. The two programs that are not contained within the draft 2024 budget are Land Acquisition and Agricultural Stewardship and Outreach.  As agreements are still being finalized with member municipalities, there exists an opportunity to continue funding arrangements for Land Acquisition.  Due to lack of support and funding constraints, Agricultural Stewardship and Outreach, as a program area, will be paused for 2024 and the existing program and delivery mechanisms will be reviewed, reconsidered and realigned potentially for 2025.  


The draft 2024 budget being circulated to member municipalities totals just under $8.9 million, and includes municipal funding of $3.3 million, representing a 12.7% decrease in municipal contributions. The reduction in municipal contributions results from pausing the Agricultural Stewardship and Outreach program in 2024. Additionally, not reflected in the budget are contributions to the Land Acquisition Program. However, should member municipalities elect to continue to fund land acquisition for at-risk properties, a separate reserve fund will be established.  


“The 2024 draft budget continues to prioritize delivery of core mandatory programs and services. In addition, repair and replacement of infrastructure such as bridges and culverts, and ongoing restoration work that is necessary for the museum and heritage buildings at the John R. Park Homestead,” said Tim Byrne, ERCA CAO.  


Beneficial non-mandatory programs such as tree planting on non-conservation authority owned lands, John R. Park Homestead operations and preservation, water quality monitoring, and community outreach programs are initially budgeted with an investment of $317,262 through municipal contribution but has the opportunity to attract significant provincial and federal matching grant funds. Since 2017, there has been a total local investment of municipal and special project funding of $12,717,242 for these programs that are now categorized as non-mandatory under the Conservation Authorities Act.  The Authority was successful in securing additional grant funds of $14,944,590 to augment these same programs, representing a return on investment of $1.18 for every $1 of municipal investment in these programs and services.  


A few program highlights for 2024 include launching a modernized permitting application process, initiating wetland and shoreline restoration works at Hillman Marsh, updating policies to address new types of Significant Drinking Water Threats or changes to applicable vulnerable areas, planting more than 50,000 trees, and implementing significant upgrades to the Authority’s website. In addition, the Authority is mandated deliver a suite of reports required by the Province by end of 2024 that includes items such as Land Inventory, Ice Management Plan, Conservation Area Strategy, Asset Management Plan, Watershed-based Resource Management Strategy. 


“As an integrated watershed management agency, ERCA’s service delivery areas have developed over decades, and include beneficial programs and services that support our collective goals related to ecological, social, and economic health,” added Byrne. “While the Province has identified the core services it deems mandatory, ERCA is actively securing agreements with each of its nine member municipalities to ensure the suite of Category 3 non-mandatory services it offers to achieve a future of environmental sustainability, will continue to be delivered.” 


The Essex Region Conservation Authority is a public sector organization established by the Province of Ontario and governed by local municipalities. For 50 years, it has provided the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario. 

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