Hamilton drops its NPCA fight to lower amount residents have to pay
'I'm convinced that the current board has changed,' says Brad Clark
Hamilton has dropped its legal fight against what it says is an unfair hike to its Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) levy, saying provincial legislation gives the city no other choice.
The city has been fighting a levy hike of nearly $1 million per year since 2015. That's when the NPCA told councillors Hamilton had been underpaying for years because of an old agreement no one could find evidence ever existed.
The city appealed the levy hike to the Mining and Lands Commissioner, and lost. Then it went to court, where the court ruled Hamilton taxpayers have to pay the increase.
It's still unfair, said Brad Clark, Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek) councillor and NPCA member. The city only has four seats on the board, a calculation based on how much of Hamilton's population is in the watershed. Its levy is based on the assessment of the entire city.
But the Conservation Authorities Act is "vague enough to allow this kind of interpretation," Clark said. Mayor Fred Eisenberger is negotiating the levy and board composition with Niagara and Haldimand County, Clark said, and that's the better way to go.
"There's some frustration at the decision," he said. However, "I believe it would be more prudent to develop some goodwill and negotiate."
Niagara has been looking forward to this moment. Last March, then-NPCA chair and regional councillor Sandy Annunziata presented a big novelty cheque to then-Niagara Region chair Alan Caslin. James Kaspersetz, then one of Hamilton's citizen reps on the NPCA accompanied him. The amount on it — $1,284,237 — was what the NPCA had put in reserves for when Hamilton exhausted its appeals.
Since then, Caslin and Annunziata lost their reelection bids and Kaspersetz wasn't reappointed.
The novelty cheque presentation, Clark said, "wasn't the most prudent decision. It seemed that they were acting more as braggarts than diplomatic politicians."
The NPCA, which Ontario's auditor general found had "significant operational issues," is more functional now, Clark said.
"I'm convinced that the current board has changed," he said. "I've been very pleased with the decorum and how they've worked to resolve issues, and they don't seem to have carried forward the baggage from the last board."
In terms of Hamilton's appeals, the city was "snake bitten by the legislation," said Chad Collins, Ward 5 (Centennial) councillor.
Hamilton is also part of the Grand River and Halton conservation authority watersheds, and is the entirety of the Hamilton Conservation Authority watershed. After seeing the NPCA's success, Grand River and Halton adjusted their levies too.
"That's probably … why all the conservation authorities came together and said, 'Let's work out something that's fair,'" he said.
Now, "we've exhausted all our opportunities, and decisions aren't working in our favour."
Hamilton's 2015 NPCA levy increased from $513,473 to $1.2 million. In 2018, the Grand River Conservation Authority increased Hamilton's levy from $263,512 to $1,389,640, a hike of more than 400 per cent.