It is after much reflection that I have finally sat down to write this letter. I intend for this call for public discourse not as a rant, but out of frustration and concern for the future of the CBT Community Initiatives grant program, and how funds are to be allocated into the future. Fist off, I will start with some disclaimers. I do not intend to criticize any individual on the grant assessment committee or on Town Council or the Mayor. While I strongly disagree with how funds were allocated this year, I understand and respect their reasoning and emotional direction. However, I intend to make a rational case as to how the funds have been miss-allocated, and I would like to start a call for change.
I would like to call attention to the fund application itself. At the very top of the criteria, it clearly states that Community Initiatives money is NOT to be used to alleviate other government agencies of their funding obligations. It also states that partial, multiple-funding is preferred when multiple agencies are involved in a project. Under this criteria, two of the projects that received full funding should have automatically been disqualified. First of all, I am the last person who would want to see our seniors living in an unsafe building. But I think one particular community member asked the right question at the public forum. “If we were in McBride, how would you pay for these very necessary upgrades.” To me this nails it on the head. Community Initiatives money is not to be used for this kind of a project. Now I want to emphasize that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the volunteers who run the Seniors’ Housing Board, and I empathize with just how much work they put into these posts. But the reality is that we need a public outcry to our local M.L.A’s, not an inappropriate use of grant money to delay the pressing reality of government off-loading. Where does this road end? Will we be using Community Initiatives money to buy school supplies for our underfunded local schools? How about using this grant money to hire supervisors to keep recess going while our teachers undertake job action? There is no difference. If I were on the committee as a community volunteer, I would have likely voted in favour of giving the Seniors Housing the money too. This is why I question if community volunteers are the right fit for these very hard decisions. I personally feel we need people with executive experience filling these roles.
Secondly, I would like to draw attention to the Swift Creek Enhancement Project. On its own, this would have been perhaps an appropriate use of money except for the lack of matching funds from the Regional District. The upgrades outlined in their grant application are to occur within Georg Hicks Regional Park. As such, I believe that at least matching funds are a pre-requisite as outlined at the very top of the grant application. I will say no more on this matter because I think that the project has merit and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the project proponents.
This brings me to the final point of my argument: Partial funding of projects without basing the numbers on the outlined budget. On my own application for funds for Road Upgrades on 5-Mile, there was an outlined budget itemized and based on cost projection for inputs as per the Interior Road Appraisal Manual and the real billed costs of the previous two years. When asked by the committee if the project could proceed with partial funding, I outlined which inputs could wait for the future when there was less competition for money. Instead of awarding money based on the budget, the committee instead decided to award half of the amount asked. If the budget is to mean absolutely nothing, why put the effort into drawing up a budget? So should we build ditches or install culverts? There is certainly not enough money for both. Next time, we should all just ask for twice as much as we need, in order to get what is needed to actually do the project. As outlined in the presentation, the project is not feasible to defer because permits have expiry dates and some of them will never be able to be renewed. To make it even harder to swallow (and I emphasize this to justify why I am “Volunteered Out”), finally getting all of the permits and plans in order and getting the green light to go has already taken over 6 years! It would appear that this kind of executive consideration was not taken into account, and instead populist thinking was resorted to. What is even more confusing is that the committee left money in the bank. This happened last year as well. In other words, money could be used to create local employment now, but for no apparent reasoning, it is going to sit in a chequing account. The Legion also received partial funding for building upgrades, again after providing a clear budget that itemized everything down to the cent.
I have already asked our local mayor and one councillor about this outcome and how they play into it. Their response was that although they did not agree with the recommendations of the committee, they were not going to use their executive authority to change the final conclusion. Instead, they proposed that we form even more committees to “better strategize” between local organizations in order to ensure that projects which need full funding to continue, and cannot be funded in any other way, get what they need.
I am exasperated! This is exactly what already occurs. Local boards talk to each other. Strategizing takes place. Local outdoor enthusiast could easily spend all of the money, what was presented was what was already prioritized. I am volunteered out. We need less public input, and more executive decision making. I propose that we eliminate the assessment committee all together and instead make it simple. Have the annual open house and public forum, then let the local council and CAO make the final decision. The CAO can make professional decisions regarding dealing with other government agencies shirking funding responsibility, the capacity of the grant applicant to deliver. Mayor and Council can ensure the public has a say in the process. My concern could be called sour grapes, but the project received the highest public support last year, and this year was in the top half. Other projects received full funding while placing much lower in the public input rating. It is clear that the system needs to be reformed. I would like to hear any other opinion on this matter. Thank You