Opinion Editorial

Kiss and make up with conservation authority

All divorces are messy. Just ask officials in Ramara Township.

Last year, Ramara councillors decided they wanted a divorce from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA). With that in mind, they opted to stop paying their share to the agency as of Jan. 1. But, as Ramara officials have learned, it's not that simple. In fact, it's almost impossible.

LSRCA CAO Mike Walters told the Packet & Times last week there is a prescribed process in the Conservation Authorities Act that outlines how such a relationship can be severed. "Essentially, they must be successful in getting a majority of our member municipalities to agree to the dissolution of the entire authority," Walters said. "To date, we're not aware that this process has been initiated."

Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke is understandably frustrated by the convoluted process, saying, "If a member doesn't want to be a member of an association, I expect they would be allowed to leave." He said he doesn't expect other municipalities are in any rush to join the fight. "Why would everyone want to leave if they're doing such a great job?"

Clarke said his township, essentially, wants to sever ties with the LSRCA due to financial reasons. He believes the township has the expertise on staff to deal with any issues that arise and could find better ways to spend the more than $42,000 it pays the authority each year.

The LSRCA is equally frustrated with Ramara's machinations. Because the township has ignored the prescribed process, Walters said it is more accurate to say Ramara has defaulted on its annual levy. And because of that, the regional authority, according to the act that governs its activities, must continue to provide its services to Ramara.

"As a conservation authority, we are bound by the legislation of the Conservation Authorities Act and our mandate to protect people and property through our core water risk-management services," Walters said. "We cannot withhold our services even though their payment is in default."

It's a mess. And it's getting messier. The LSRCA asked its member municipalities to pass resolutions officially opposing Ramara's request to leave. Innisfil councillors did just that, voting to hold Ramara "accountable for its fair and equitable share" of the cost of provincially mandated programs. Bradford West Gwillimbury didn't go quite as far. But Coun. Gary Lamb probably said what many around the county are thinking: "I'm disappointed that someone's going to take that step backwards, but I don't think it's our business."

Lamb is right. It is a step backward. Not only is Ramara doing itself no favours with its municipal counterparts; it's also turning its back on the trusted authority on issues related to the Lake Simcoe watershed. It's one of those decisions that might save a few dollars in the short term but could cost far more in the long run.

A healthy Lake Simcoe is vital not only to Ramara, but the entire region. Before this divorce gets even messier, Ramara should re-examine its original vows, admit it has made a mistake and jump back in bed with the LSRCA.

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