Council Miscellany—Budgets, Grants, and Columbia Ave. Negotiations

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
February 20th, 2013

Council’s Feb. 13 meeting was marked by the 70-odd people who turned up to advocate for the continued funding of the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society, which triggered an idea by Coun. Cary Fisher that grabbed the rest of council. In other news, the city is now preparing for imminent 2013 budget discussions, a grant for Washington Street has fallen through, and the costs of the Columbia Ave. upgrades won’t be known until some time in March.

Fisher asks for greater accountability from community groups funded by the city

Fisher’s primary concern was that community groups applying for funding “meet a minimum standard for presentation,” for example in the form of a standard application for city funding that would require financial reports, a disclosure of other funding partners, and set up deliverables for the end of the funding term.

If the requirements were clear, he argued, “then KCTS might not have to build up a huge case for themselves and drum up all the support.”

He added, “And if it were clear to us that they meet the standard, and the funding’s available, then we fund them.”

The application form community groups would fill out should be “created with city criteria in mind,” he said, for example the ways the project or objectives meet goals in the Official Community Plan, financial reports and deliverables, leveraging with other funders, membership and how many volunteers would be involved, expected community service hours, expected community benefits, and so forth.

Groups would have to have the application in by a certain date each year, he added, “and if they miss it, we won’t consider them. That’s the way of the real world,” Fisher said. “It may seem like a competition, but guess what: there are scarce resources. It is a bit of a competition.”

Successful applicants, he said, should then need an “actual contract” with the city, spelling out deliverables with which to report back to the city at the end of the contract period. Completing this “would allow for their eligibility for additional years of funding,” he said.

Coun. Kathy Wallace commented, “As far as service agreements go, I thought city had made movement in that direction.”

Deputy CAO Tracey Butler responded, “We do with some, with some we don’t.”

Fisher said he wanted service agreements “across the board.”

Council unanimously carried Fisher’s motion for staff to draft a community group funding application form.

Council prepares for budget deliberations

As the time for council to finalize the 2013-2017 five year financial plan—the document that directs the 2013 budget—fast approaches, some councillors are feeling the need to get going on the process.

Mayor Greg Granstrom assured council that CAO Cecile Arnott, while enjoying her two month unpaid vacation, is having “a bit of a working holiday,” as she prepares budget presentations to give council upon her return at the end of February.

Coun. Kathy Moore suggested that there was very little time available, and councillors with ideas for how to modify the budget should address them to staff now. She encouraged councillors to read the “budge the budget” ideas presented by citizens in the “DemocracySTORM” that the Rossland Telegraph is currently running.

(The DemocracySTORM will run until Feb. 24. To vote on your favourite budget ideas, pleasefollow this link.)

Fisher noted his concerns: “There was a time when the City of Rossland had a budget committee, but then the committee structure got reduced.” At the time, he said, there were concerns over transparency, and that information wasn’t coming out of the committee.

“Now there’s no committee structure, so it’s back on staff. But now people think staff have too much power,” he said. “While we don’t want to micromanage staff, a committee-of-the-whole meeting [on the budget] needs to be brought to the table sooner rather than later.”

The meeting would allow “general discussions” towards “a format, for how we can take it forward,” Fisher said. “I don’t like how we did it last year, and I don’t like it this year, waiting for Cecile to come back.”

“There are too many moving parts here and unknowns,” he said, noting the Columbia upgrades, the school issue, and the May deadline. He called the process the city has gone through “perplexing” and said waiting until mid-April and then trying to get it all done in “meeting after meeting” would be a “mistake” and “bad decisions will be made.”

No grant money to upgrade Washington Street

A grant the city applied for to help fund water, sewer, and stormwater renovations of Washington Street north of First Ave. has not come through.

The Gas Tax General Strategic Priorities Fund (GSPF) and Innovations Fund (IF) awarded $53 million to 53 projects across the province.

Gary MacIsaac, the chair of the managing committee, wrote, “These approvals, along
with the approvals made under the 2011 intake, fully commit the GSPF and IF
allocation for the 2010-2014 Gas Tax extension funding. Consequently, there is
no further funding available under these programs.”

“I assume Washington will be put on hold until we identify some other sources of funding,” Moore said. “We’ll just have to hope our pipes hold,” she added, referring to the poor state of the century-old water pipes under the street whose lead joints are apt to leak in the event of large vibrations.

Noting that Trail’s application for the same grant to renovate their bridge was also turned down, Mayor Granstrom said Trail was looking into the possibility of a task force to review the fairness of what he called the “grant lottery.”

Spearn added that this was “very disappointing,” and “depends on what MLA is in your riding.”

“There’s desperation around infrastructure grants. We need a better process, one that’s fair and equitable. There needs to be a new system.”

MOTI increases funding, but Columbia costs remains unknown as negotiations continue

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has agreed to increase their contribution to the Columbia Ave. renovation beyond the original figure of more than $1.3 million they had agreed to prior to the project.

Moore was pleased: “That will reduce the community’s cost,” she said, “and now we should have enough information to give the community a ballpark figure of what Columbia is costing us.”

“Not to the penny,” she added, “but we’re doing a huge disservice to the community by not giving them this information.”

Granstrom replied, “We are in negotiations still, it’s not final. We cannot put a number out because we would jeopardize the negotiations.”

“I disagree on that, actually,” Moore said.

Granstrom reiterated, “As we negotiate the numbers, we can’t put out a number, high or low. We can’t put out a guess. How is that fair?”

He added, “It won’t be much longer now at all. It should be in March for sure, a real number.”

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