First SRD Virtual Board Meeting

First SRD Virtual Board Meeting Ever; Public Denied Access

As a precautionary measure to help slow and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) closed the doors of its administration building to the public on March 17, 2020. They also cancelled their usual board meeting at the end of the month. The first SRD virtual board meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. 

Without The Public Present

Can members of the media attend?

“Due to the extraordinary time we are in, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has given us the ability to conduct our meetings in this fashion and also to conduct the business of the board without the public present,” emailed Chair Michele Babchuk of the Strathcona Regional District (SRD). “Most local governments do not have the technology to facilitate public involvement at this time.”

The SRD Board could use the same ZOOM conferencing system as Cortes Island’s Virtual Community meetings, which are both open to the public and broadcast live over Cortes Radio, CKTZ 89.5 FM.

(The next Cortes meeting is at 5:30 PM on Tuesday, April 14th. You do not need a computer to participate but, as a protection against zoom bombing, must call Regional Director Noba Anderson at 250-935-0320 to obtain the call-in number. Anyone with a computer can register at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/uJMqfuCgqjsuyEF06kidrqQLxRtCjjJlww)

Babchuk continued, “As the April 15th meeting is the first meeting of the board that will be conducted in this manner, the agenda will not be as robust as we have seen in the past.”

Linnaea farm’s Application

The most important Cortes Island item on the agenda is Linnaea Farm’s application to use $44,520 from the Provincial Gas Tax to purchase a heat pump.

Linnaea Farm functions as one of Cortes Island’s community halls in everything but name. Some of its better known activities are: the Cortes Branch of the Vancouver Island Public Library, the Cortes museum’s “Wild Cortes—Woods, Wetlands & Waters” exhibit, Spark Point MusicTeenSzene, Homeschoolers of Cortes Island, Yoga Camp, the Children’s Forest GroupLiteracy Now and Folk U. A number of community events, like Lovefest, are also held there. 

At their last meeting, the Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC) voted against recommending this project.

The SRD Board will make the final decision, but normally follows EASC’s recommendations.

Few Clubs Or Societies Approved

As SRD staff pointed out in their report, the Union of BC Municipalities (which administers this fund), “publishes annual project lists to disclose how Gas Tax funds are being spent in BC; of the 2,860 projects listed between 2016 and 2018, only 57 are associated with the search terms ‘club’, “search and rescue” or ‘society’.” 

However, the report focuses on urban areas with a developed infrastructure. The “Capital Regional District (population 383,360), Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (population 37,896) and the Regional District of Nanaimo” (population 90,505).

Lacking both the population and infrastructure, the Cortes community formed societies to run its community halls. They are far more likely to be among the UBCM’s 57 exceptions than similar buildings in Victoria or Nanaimo.

While a portion of the Gas tax fund is set aside for Cortes Island (Electoral Area B) every year, it has been extremely difficult to access.

According to the staff report, the money keeps accumulating: “As of January 1, 2020, the balance of Electoral Area B’s Gas Tax Reserve is approximately $565,325 and is expected to receive a 2020 transfer of $58,155 in addition to any interest earned on the balance.”

What Additional Community Benefit?

At the EASC meeting, Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch said, “The government wants to know what additional community benefit would [Linnaea Farm] provide for those $40,000? Don’t get caught up in thinking that just because you are doing a great service to the community, which you are, someone is going to give you money – you need to provide a greater service.”

Cortes Island Regional Director Noba Anderson pointed out neither Mansons Hall or Gorge Hall were required to show the increased public benefit, when Gas Tax funding was used to put heat pumps into their facilities (about 2017/18).

Linnaea’s Executive Director, Tamara McPhail, offered to draw up a list of the additional benefits that would be obtained if their educational building is better heated.

While the debate is being withheld from public view, the board’s vote could be displayed on the SRD website as early as Friday, April 17.

Quadra Island Matters

There are also a number of Quadra Island items on the agenda

Going Forward

Babchuk emailed, “We understand the need for transparency and accountability and are trying our best to work through these new challenges.”

She alluded to a plan to stream board meetings to the SRD website.

“As you are already aware the initiative to get the new boardroom technology in place has been prioritized even higher and we are now looking at that project to be completed in a faster time frame.”

Top photo credit: Hand on Keyboard by Marco Verch via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) 

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