The Regional District of Central Kootenay is looking at adopting a dispute resolution process for Columbia Basin Trust funding after a protest over the way a community vote was handled this spring.
Residents who live within 10 kilometers of the Duncan dam gathered in Meadow Creek on April 7 to decide how to divvy up $73,786 in affected areas funding. Twenty-eight groups applied with requests totalling over $115,000.
A committee including regional district director Andy Shadrack, Kaslo village councillor Suzan Hewat and three community representatives recommended two large projects receive $9,500 each, four small applications receive the full amounts, and the remaining 22 groups get 90 per cent of what they asked for.
Those at the meeting initially voted 20 to 11 in favour of the committee’s recommendation but after some people said they were confused, everyone was asked to fill out ballots indicating how much they’d like each project to receive.
As a result, some groups were poised to receive more money than the committee recommended and others less. Friends of the Lardeau River, which sought $3,800 to improve the Glayco beach recreation site, saw their proposed allocation reduced from about $3,400 to $2,600.
The committee agreed to go with what was on the ballots, a decision upheld by Shadrack and the regional district board, much to the chagrin of Grant Trower with Friends of the Lardeau River.
“The only confusion was with the 11 people who voted for the ballot,” he said. “There was no confusion with the 20 people who voted to accept the committee’s recommendation.”
Shadrack, who was not at the meeting, said he would top up funding to Trower’s group through other means, but Trower was still concerned about the process: “It’s not the money. It’s the principle.”
Shadrack said the decision to go with the results of the ballot rather than the original vote was made after “extensive discussion” with Trower, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the people who ran the meeting.
“Did we meet the basic criteria? Was there proper community consultation? Yes. And was the vote eventually taken by filling out the ballot reflective of what people were thinking? The answer has to be yes.”
He noted that of the 31 people at the meeting, only a couple have raised concerns.
Trower appealed unsuccessfully to the regional district board this month. Although staff investigated, they placed no recommendation before directors, who unanimously supported Shadrack’s motion to accept the ballot results.
At the time, chair John Kettle suggested Trower could take it up with the Trust, but he now says the regional district is solely accountable. “The bottom line is the process is ours,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to administer the program.”
Kettle has asked staff to draft a dispute resolution process that could be introduced at their next board meeting in June, although it probably won’t affect what happened in Meadow Creek. “I think there was a lapse in process that could be questioned. I’m going to make sure we fix it next time,” he said, although he wasn’t sure what form it would take.
Columbia Basin Trust CEO Neil Muth, who met with Kettle on the issue last week, said although local governments decide on disbursements in a myriad of ways, disputes are rare — “I wouldn’t even say it’s once a year” — and the Trust is careful about getting involved.
“We would look at whether anything violated our agreement. If there was, we’d sit down with our partner and talk it through. In this case nothing has been brought to my attention that violates our agreement. It’s largely up to them to sort it out.”
Muth said while he expects the regional district to advise them of what they come up with, the Trust isn’t an appeal body and will remain at arm’s length.
Trower is pleased the regional district is looking at changes, although he remains troubled by the way the vote was handled. “They’ve been instructed to set up a process so it won’t happen again. That’s good. But I’m still concerned our public vote has been denied.”