Three-year community funding program will not be renewed

Community Directed Funds Committee meeting,regarding the agreement between Columbia Basin Trust and its Community Directed Funds Program.

At the recent Columbia Valley Community Directed Funds Committee meeting held on Monday, January 19th at the Windermere Fire Hall, key items were discussed regarding the future of the funding agreement between Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) and its Community Directed Funds Program. The meeting came to a head when CBT president and CEO Neil Muth confirmed the dissolution of the six current community directed programs.

“This is a formal decision — when it expires we will not continue funding,” said Muth. “It was decided upon that beyond the current agreements, no new contracts would be issued.”

Currently, funding from the program is being channelled into the Columbia Cultural Tourism Association, Invest Kootenay, the Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance, the multi-use community facility in the District of Invermere, the Columbia Valley Marketing Program and the unallocated community directed funds pot.

“There were pluses and also challenges that we were faced with. On the positive side, the planning processes and identifying of priorities was one of the key features that we hoped would happen when we embarked down this road. Secondly was the committee process, including people from the regions and a broad-based committee such as this one, where you have elected officials and non-elected community representatives. We would like to find a way to continue working with the positive features that came out of the initiatives,” Muth told the committee.

One of the challenges that arose throughout the incubation of the program involved the administration of it.

“We were hearing comments that this was a download and not an empowerment, which was certainly never the intent. We never anticipated that would be the case. I think in hindsight CBT is set up and we have the infrastructure to manage grants, manage contracts, and perhaps we didn’t realize how much time we spent on those grants. It was never the intent to download that responsibility,” he said.

More of a substantive challenge was the nature of bringing a group together to collaborate effectively around key issues.

“The Columbia Valley has had a history of collaborating on community initiative programs and probably many other initiative programs, and that history has probably served you very well — that’s not necessarily the case in other regions,” said Muth.

Another challenge the program has encountered involves geographical boundaries that differ from issue to issue, leaving too many discrepancies when it comes to appropriate funding for natural geographic boundaries.

“We were seeing that kind of overlap and dealing with issues around what is the natural grouping of communities, or the natural definition of a region?”

As funds were starting to move out to projects, there was a lot of overlap with community development programs and even CBT’s Community Initiatives Program. According to Mr. Muth, it was never the intention of the CBT to set up another granting program, so when looking at some projects, CBT couldn’t understand why the funding wasn’t coming from the Community Development Program, which caused certain tensions around current projects in Invermere.

“We shouldn’t be having discussions about what pot it’s coming out of. At the end of the day it should be a discussion about whether it’s a good project; is it supported by the community? And if so, let’s find a way to fund it and not spend time trying to figure out which pocket it comes out of when it’s all the same pot,” said Muth.

The annual funding allocation of the program stipulated an allowance of $200,000.

“(Which) doesn’t always make sense. It may be that you as a group have identified a single project worth $500,000 and so the importance is on the project and we can fund a $500,000 project. It  wouldn’t be all that helpful to require you to ask for $200,000 year one, $200,000 year two and then $100,000 in year three. I think we can bring more flexibility to the funding decisions moving forward,” he said.

Based on current findings, the CBT board established the best course of action was to no longer extend funding to the regions. However, CBT will not be abandoning its prior commitment.

“The funding is not going to expire at the end of year three (if there are any remaining funds at that time). Should there be an excess of funds left over in seven years, CBT will address the allocation of those leftover funds. Let’s figure it out together,” said Muth.

Committee members expressed concerns in response to Muth’s announcement on the non-continuation of the funding program.

“I understand that the CBT board has made a decision,” said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft. “I think this group felt that it was the first community to get started and we took a little more time in the beginning, but we did provide a bit of a road map potentially for other community directed funds to follow. So in that sense, it’s too late, but it would have been nice for an extra year, because I think in a lot of ways we felt like we did not accomplish as much in the first year  as we could have, had we not been the first guinea pigs to go forward. It would have been nice to have a one-year renewal.”

CBT is open to restructuring the allocation of funds still available through the Community Directed Funds Program, or even possibly taking a stab at Taft’s suggestion for a year’s extension. The tone was cheerful and collaborative as the committee discussed how the future of funding would look.

“So the concept is wide open,” said Regional District of East Kootenay Area G director Gerry Wilkie.

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