Saskatoon

Cuts coming to Meewasin Valley conservation organization

CEO Lloyd Isaak wouldn’t confirm any potential layoffs or building closures but he told CBC News that no increase in funding in the provincial budget last week means it will have to make very difficult decisions in terms of programs and projects.

CEO Lloyd Isaak says funding for Meewasin Valley Authority has been frozen for more than three decades

The Meewasin Valley Authority looks after a number of trails and conservation programs around Saskatoon. (Meewasin Valley Authority)

The Meewasin Valley Authority says cuts and program reductions are coming this year and the future of the conservation organization hangs in the balance.

On Monday, CEO Lloyd Isaak wouldn't confirm any potential layoffs or building closures but he told CBC News that no increase in funding in the provincial budget last week means it will have to make very difficult decisions in terms of programs and projects.

"The consequence to the projects and programs were a result of a status quo budget," Isaak said. "We've been working with our board for a number of months to try and position Meewasin in the event that occurred and there will be some impacts on our programs and projects."

The organization looks after Saskatoon's riverbank trail system and runs education programs, hiking tours and nature walks out of the Beaver Creek Conservation Area. Recently it has also taken on the work involved in conserving the Northeast Swale river channel as the city continues to push its boundaries further out. 

Saskatoon's Meewasin Valley Authority is facing financial difficulty. (CBC)

Last week the provincial government cut $540,000 in funding to five urban parks in Saskatchewan, and while those cuts didn't fall on Meewasin and Wascana Park, the government said they were reviewing the funding models to those major parks and everything was on the table.

Isaak said he was surprised to hear everything was on the table, and said that means the future of Meewasin is in more jeopardy if the province decides to pull its share of funding.

The share accounts for about 20 per cent of its total budget.

"It's been difficult to determine with any certainty our short and long-term plans now that we have this uncertainty before us," Isaak said.

Despite the financial difficulties, Isaak said the organization will continue to try and build trails in the city to respond to growth and to connect to new neighbourhoods, but added that it's not going to come easy.

Just after the provincial budget, the organization proposed to widen a portion of trails to six metres between the Mendel Art Gallery to just south of the Weir. That project is now on hold.

Mounting pressure from frozen funding

Isaak said the organization has been struggling for years with the level of funding it receives, because the funding has been frozen for more than three decades.

 The City of Saskatoon, the University of Saskatchewan and the provincial government all contribute funding.

"When Meewasin was formed we were receiving $33 per person, per capita every year and just because of frozen budgets over the last 36 years essentially we're now down to $9.50 per capita and the city continues to grow," he said.  

While the organization has gotten a number of city and provincial grants, Isaak said it's only basically allowed the organization to keep its head above water.

Isaak said an increase of about $400,000 to $500,000 this year would be enough to put the the authority back on track.

The organization's board is holding a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss what programs and projects will be affected this year.

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