MEETING PREVIEW: Grand River Conservation Board Meeting for January 27, 2023

The last local board or shared service committee meeting of the month is the Grand River Conservation Authority’s board meeting, and as usual there’s a lot of business to cover. This month there’s money matters with the 2023 budget, lingering concerns about the recent passage of Bill 23, and a debrief about the authority’s response to last month’s holiday winter storm.

NOTE: This meeting will be in a hybrid format, broadcast from the GRCA Admin Centre on YouTube starting at 9:30 am.

Correspondences – Three letters were included in the agenda. One is from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing about changes to the Greenbelt, another is the Brant County Council’s response to Bill 23 and the last is feedback from Conservation Ontario about A Place to Grow.

Per diems and Honorariums for 2023 – Ever since 2018, the board has always had to approve a motion to increase per diems and honorariums at the rate equal to the Consumer Price Index, and in closed session back in December, the board passed a 2.5 per cent increase for non-union positions effective January 2023. The draft budget for this year includes $100,000 for Board Members’ honorariums, per diems, mileage and expenses, and the anticipated adjusted rates have been incorporated into the budgeted amount.

Cash and Investment Status – As of the end of December, is holding Notes Receivable in the amount of $56.2 million, with nearly $48,000 in outstanding cheques.

Budget 2023 Draft #2 – The recommended budget is mostly unchanged from the one presented in October with the exception of new funding for the special projects budget from various grants and donations, plus a small surplus being carried over from 2022. All in, the GRCA budget for 2023 is just under $35 million, which also includes a $1.4 million hit on the reserves. There’s also a warning that, like everyone else, inflation and supply issues will have a further impact on this year’s budget. The budget will receive a final vote at the February Board meeting.

Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan: Related Regulatory Changes, Ministerial Order and OWES Manual Amendments – Bill 23, have you heard of it? Of course you have, and one of the most beat up areas of governance stemming from its passage is Ontario’s conservation authorities. Of particular note in the report are two areas. The first is pretty straightforward; the ministry is freezing plan review and permitting fees and prohibits any change in how these fees are determined effective January 1 until the end of the year. (Fortunately, the GRCA approved its fees at the December 16 board meeting.)

The second issue is that conservation authorities are no longer able to provide a program or service related to reviewing and commenting outside of a natural hazard scope for any proposal, application, or other matter related to development and land use planning. So unless there’s a public danger, the GRCA doesn’t get to have a say in planning matters. The point, according to the Ontario government is to streamline housing applications and… Build Homes Faster.

So conservation authorities can no longer enter into any agreements with municipalities to provide non-mandatory plan review services, but they will be able to continue to review wetlands, watercourses and stormwater management as they constitute a component of natural hazard management. GRCA staff is presently working with member municipalities on transitioning files in progress from before January 1.

Development, Interference with Wetlands and Alterations to Shorelines Regulation – Every quarter, the GRCA has to account for the Board members how many permits were approved and issued by staff that conform to current Grand River Conservation Authority policies. For instance, you need a permit for projects like a swimming pool, septic system or a driveway in any regulated area, just as you would for a new house, a home addition or construction of a building such as a garage, large shed or barn. In last quarter of 2022 – from October to December – the GRCA issued 177 across the watershed and six in Guelph specifically.

Current Watershed Conditions – The conservation authority describes December as a “warm and wet month”, and the amount of rain and snow received has allowed reservoir levels to recover back to their normal operating range. That’s good news, but the report also warns that long-term precipitation trends are “well below” what’s needed for the watershed to recover from the overall dryness in 2022. In Guelph, for example, we’ve only received 69 per cent of the normal amount of rain and snow in the last six months even though we received 121 per cent last month alone.

Fun fact: The Guelph weather station was tied with Shades Mill Conservation area in Cambridge  for the most precipitation last month at 44.3 millimetres, which is 127 per cent of the long-term average.

Lake Erie Surge Flood Event on December 23, 2022 – Along with the winter storm that hit us in December came flood warnings from the GRCA in the days before, during and after the storm. Much of the impact was on the Haldimand County shoreline, which required co-operation between the GRCA and two other conservation authorities, and that resulted in more consistent messaging across all three authorities as they monitored conditions in Lake Erie.

CLOSED MEETING:

The board will move in-camera to “discuss a confidential matter.” No further details were provided in the open agenda.

Election of Officers and Appointments to Committees – The GRCA Board will wrap up the meeting by electing the new chair and vice-chair for this term, and, in a separate matter, will appoint the new members of the audit committee.

SEE THE COMPLETE AGENDA ON THE GRCA WEBSITE HERE.

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