Coun. Sandra O’Connor is unable to convince her fellow councillors to include a climate change co-ordinator in this year’s budget. Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Of all the new positions the town was considering in the 2023 budget, a climate change co-ordinator is no longer one of them.

Town staff initially included the position in their draft of the budget proposal, evaluating it at about $54,000.

Council voted to defer the expense until next year despite pressure from Coun. Sandra O’Connor to include it and acknowledgments around the table that the town needed to do more to address climate change.

“I can’t believe where the priorities are,” O’Connor told the budget review committee last week.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa called the comment “inappropriate” as discussion on the proposed hire had passed and council had moved on to discuss budgeting for a program co-ordinator for the parks and recreation department. 

Chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said the staffer would essentially be a project manager with expertise in climate change.

They would have helped direct the town’s climate change adaptation program and provide guidance to the planning department, especially to reduce flooding risks, O’Connor said.

“I see this as a very high priority linked with the other two planning positions” the town was considering, she added.

Others argued there was greater need elsewhere.

“I’m not supportive of proceeding with this,” Coun. Nick Ruller said. 

“I have concerns that we aren’t funding existing initiatives adequately and we’re looking to add positions to better support other initiatives,” he said.

“We need to support existing programs.”

Asked if staff could meet the responsibilities of the proposed position without hiring someone new, Cluckie said, “It will be a challenge” though “perhaps not impossible.”

“We are behind on our legislative requirements related to energy conservation,” she added. 

“That is because there is no person here available to do the work.” 

Coun. Erwin Wiens was on the fence.

“I knew this was going to happen the second we declared a climate emergency,” he said.

After declaring an environmental emergency people start asking, “What are you doing about it?”  Wiens said.

Declaring an emergency on the matter was “symbolic only,” he said. 

Still he had trouble squaring his view with pressures from the province.

“At the provincial level, every question revolves around ‘What are you doing about the environment?’ ” he said.

“I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth,” he added, “But that’s the conundrum I’m in.”

Coun. Maria Mavridis said she was worried that if approved, they may have to hire a whole team next year to support the climate change co-ordinator. 

“Which positions do we cut out of this list so that we’re being financially responsible to the taxpayer,” she asked. 

Earlier, Coun. Tim Balasiuk acknowledged the need for a climate change co-ordinator but argued it would be better to allocate those funds to more planning staff.

Cluckie said the position could be contracted out in the meantime but that it was becoming harder to secure contractors to fill positions. 

She also said the position was a “good candidate” for grant funding.

O’Connor was not convinced.

“The province is asking us, ‘Do we have this, are we doing this?’ ” O’Connor said. “We need this position.”

She added that the role of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has been reduced by the province and that the region also has limited resources when it comes to environmental regulation.

“If we don’t pick it up, no one will,” she said. 

Balasiuk raised the motion to cut the position from the budget until next year. 

It passed with Couns. Balasiuk, Wendy Cheropita, Mavridis, Ruller and Adrianna Vizzari in favour.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa was not present for the vote. 

By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 30, 2023 at 09:44

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
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