Every year community organizations pitch their ideas in the hopes that they’ll receive money from Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives Program. The applicants present their ideas to a local audience. Any resident can come and vote. But how are those votes used to make a decision? Who makes the decision anyway?

The final decision is made by council, based on recommendations from a local committee, but the public votes count for a lot. The votes are used by a committee of five local people to establish which projects will receive the money. The commitee was first appointed by Council in 2009; the members have changed somewhat since that time. The current members are: Wendy Dyson – manager of the Valemount Visitor Information Centre and Mt. Robson Visitor’s centre, Bill Kruisselbrink – former board member of Columbia Basin Trust, Dee McEachern – former minister at the Anglican-United Church, Arnold Wied – heavily involved in the past with the Valemount Area Recreation Development Association, Sandy Salt – Valemount Councillor and Braden Hutchins (non-voting member.) So while the money comes from the Columbia Basin Trust, the final decision about the money is locally based.

At the public meeting each year, members of the public who attend rate the projects on a scale, usually from 1 to 10. In the past, the rating was based on a presentation by the proponents and a short financial summary, whereas the selection committee gets a complete package with all the financial details. This year, at the public input meeting March 14th, members of the public will have from 5:30 to 7pm to query the applicants directly about their request for grants during an informal meet-and-greet time. The grant-seekers will have displays set up at the secondary school, and attendees can get more specific details about their projects. Following the meeting time will be the formal presentations where applicants will have three minutes to pitch their idea to attendees. The pitch will be followed by a maximum of seven minutes of questioning from the general public.

Following the submission of votes at the end of the evening, the grant committee makes up their questions and concerns and generally has one meeting to decide on where to allot funding. First they verify the public evaluation sheets to make sure the vote tallies are correct. The votes tell the committee members what the community feels is most important and beneficial to what they feel is least important. If there aren’t enough funds available then the committee has to weigh the different projects. But even if there are enough funds to do all the projects, the committee will not necessarily approve all the proposals. They will look at public support as well as longevity of the project. Often they will allot a smaller amount of money to projects that get less support. They might say it’s a good project but you’re asking too much money. While Council has final approval, Council has never said no to the committee’s recommendations, in the five years the grant program has existed. Only one elected official is allowed to be on the committee.

This year 12 organizations applied for $196,058.09, out of a total of $216,393.85 available. If not all the money is used in a given year, the money to rolled into the next year. Since 2011, groups can apply for money to cover operational costs, not just capital or ad hoc costs.

Council will consider the committee’s recommendations at its April 9th, 2013 meeting. Decisions regarding applications will then be made public.

Columbia Basin Trust was created in 1995 to promote social, economic and environmental well-being in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin, the region most affected by the Columbia River Treaty. Valemount is the northernmost community affected by the treaty and included in the CBT.