Sudbury

Sault Ste. Marie Conservation Authority drops staff, kids programs in face of provincial cuts

We're getting our first look at what provincial cuts to conservation authorities in northern Ontario will look like. In Sault Ste. Marie staff are being laid off, children's programs cut and flood channel maintenance put on hold.

Provincial funding for flood controls in Sault Ste. Marie cut in half

The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority is cutting staff and children's programs to cover cuts to provincial funding. (Erik White/CBC )

Cuts to provincial funding are forcing the conservation authority in Sault Ste. Marie to lay-off staff and scrap children's programs.

General manager Corrina Barrett says the money will instead be spent on flood protection and erosion control, after the funding the agency receives from the provincial government for those programs, was slashed in half.

The $63,000 cut to provincial funding will also see long-term maintenance on flood channels in Sault Ste. Marie put on hold.

"It's a little daunting to think, especially during times when we see significant flooding happening throughout Ontario, that the programs that are meant to deal with those are the programs that are being cut," Barrett said.

The Minister of Natural Resources recently wrote a letter requesting all conservation authorities to not seek a municipal tax hike or raise user fees in order to make up the budget shortfall.

That's exactly what Sault Ste. Marie is doing, but Barrett says with one less employee and two others downgraded to part-time hours, day-to-day operations will be a challenge.

"We're trying to become more efficient at getting these permits out, but the difficult part is that we're also losing our staff members that are helping with the stuff on the side, so we're having to pick that up as well. Sometimes those other programs fall through the cracks anyway," she said. 

At Sault Ste. Marie city council Monday night, councillor Matthew Shoemaker said he was pleased with how the conservation authority is handling its finances.

"They haven't downloaded the costs of provincial cuts to the municipality and certainly I appreciate that and certainly the taxpayers of Sault Ste. Marie appreciate that as well. It has resulted in some pain for the organization very clearly," he said.

Other conservation authorities in the northeast are facing similar budget crunches this fall and expect to be making some of those same tough decisions in October. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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