Hamilton tax base being 'pillaged' by conservation authorities, says Green

Between two conservation authorities, Hamilton taxpayers are paying $2 million more a year than they were three years ago. "It's millions of dollars at the stroke of a pen."

'I'm ready to walk out in protest,' says Coun. Matthew Green of the more than 400% increase

Hamilton is already facing a nearly $1 million levy increase from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Now the Grand River Conservation Authority has followed suit. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Hamilton taxpayers will have to pay about $1.1 million more a year to the Grand River Conservation Authority as it became the second conservation authority to dramatically hike the amount the city owes.

It's millions of dollars at the stroke of a pen.- Matthew Green

The levy the city has to pay the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) for 2018 is increasing more than 400 per cent — from $263,512 to $1,389,640.

Combined with a Niagara levy increase, that's an increase of nearly $2 million in three years to conservation authorities.

"I'm ready to walk out in protest," said Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 when the GRCA delivered the news at a city council budget meeting.

"How, with a straight face, can you guys be here today expecting us to carry this burden?"

The change comes after the city lost a battle with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) over the same issue.

"Our tax levy is being absolutely pillaged," says Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, of the levy increase. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Two years ago, the NPCA increased Hamilton's annual levy by nearly $1 million.

The old levy amount was based on a 2001 post-amalgamation agreement.

Under that agreement, Hamilton's levy portion was based on the assessment of the small portion of Hamilton in the Niagara watershed. NPCA changed it so the levy was based on the assessment value of the entire city.

The city fought that at the Ontario lands and mines commission and lost. Now it's looking at whether it has any recourse.

GRCA is obligated to follow the same formula at the NPCA, said Keith Murch, GRCA assistant CAO.

"We've sought legal advice on this, as have other authorities, and we understand the decision is binding," Murch said.

This map shows the City of Hamilton and how it overlaps several watersheds. (Hamilton Conservation Authority)

As for other authorities, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority's budget has decreased more than 5 per cent, although Hamilton's portion still increased 5.3 per cent. Hamilton will pay $1,282,780 this year compared to $1,214,568 in 2017. In 2015, the city's levy was $513,473.

Hamilton will pay Conservation Halton 3.5 per cent more in 2018 than last year – or $209,099. The Hamilton Conservation Authority, which is located entirely in Hamilton, increased 1.5 per cent, which is what the city wanted.

Meanwhile, with Hamilton's new Grand River levy, the other 21 municipalities in the Grand River watershed will pay less than before.

Councillors weren't happy. Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster suggested the city write to the province.

"We need to get in front of the premier quickly because this is just not right," he said.

Hamilton's tax levy, Green said, "is being absolutely pillaged." And the recent decision shows the city can't really fight it.

"We have no control anyway," he said. "This is an information report."

"It's millions of dollars at the stroke of a pen."