Hamilton should trust no one when working out an NPCA levy deal, says board member

A Hamilton rep is warning the city not to trust Niagara as the two areas try to hammer out a deal around the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
Coun. Brad Clark, centre, gets ready to cast a ballot for interim NPCA chair earlier this month. Clark says the culture of the NPCA board still hasn't changed much. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A Hamilton rep is warning the city not to trust Niagara as the two areas try to hammer out a deal around the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he'll meet with Niagara and Haldimand officials to reach some agreement on how much Hamilton pays the NPCA every year. They'll also hammer out the board's composition.

Stewart Beattie, Hamilton's long-time rep on the NPCA board, told Eisenberger to be careful.

"Quite frankly, I don't trust them," Beattie said. "Their politics are not like our politics."

Any agreement, Beattie said, should be "iron clad."

Greg's a really nice guy, but he's been on the job for three weeks.- Coun . Brad Clark

Eisenberger has faith. The arrangement, he said, would be "fair on either side."

Hamilton has been at odds with the NPCA since 2015. That's when the authority boosted the city's annual levy by nearly $1 million — from $513,473 to $1.2 million.

Hamilton has been paying since then, but under protest, said Mike Zegarac, acting city manager. The city appealed the levy to the province — and lost. Now it's appealing that levy in court. The next date is in February.

David Barrick is interim CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Hamilton city councillors say they were disappointed when he couldn't make it to their budget meeting Tuesday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city also learned recently it should have four seats on the board. For years, it's only had two.

The authority itself has been under intense scrutiny. An Ontario auditor general report last year said it had "significant operational issues." The report flagged, among other items, the hiring of former regional councillor Dave Barrick, who's now interim CAO. In December, a Welland judge also issued an emergency order to stop the old board from making decisions.

Hamilton's 2019 NPCA levy is $1,448,243, or 3.18 per cent more than last year. Niagara's increased 1.8 per cent, and Haldimand's 3.3 per cent.

We continue to deeply respect and value our Hamilton partners.- Krystle   Caputo , NPCA

Barrick was scheduled to tell councillors this himself at a Tuesday budget meeting. Greg Furtney, acting director of corporate resources for three weeks, appeared instead.

'I can't believe they sent you'

"I don't know how to deal with this," said Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9, who's also a new NPCA board member. "Greg's a really nice guy, but he's been on the job for three weeks. I'm profoundly disappointed the interim CAO isn't here."

"I can't believe they sent you," Coun. Sam Merulla told Furtney. "Your courage is quite profound."

Krystle Caputo, NPCA spokesperson, said Barrick had an "unforeseen matter" ahead of a board meeting Wednesday.

"We continue to deeply respect and value our Hamilton partners," she said.

Hamilton's NPCA 2015 levy hike happened because the NPCA said it had been calculating it wrong for years, and was changing it accordingly.

NPCA board culture 'hasn't changed' much

Previously, the authority had been billing Hamilton based on the assessment of all the land in the Niagara watershed. The new calculation is based on the entire assessment of Hamilton.

The Grand River Conservation Authority changed its calculation too and hiked Hamilton's levy last year.

Councillors voted Tuesday to appeal that whole method of calculation to the province. It's also appealing all four conservation authority levies it pays — even the ones it likes.

Many former NPCA members were unseated in October's municipal election. But Clark said not much seems to have changed.

"The culture of the board hasn't changed dramatically from the way it was before."


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