The shell game over Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding has the shuttle bus service to Red Mountain Resort hanging in the balance.
Three weeks ago Tourism Rossland proposed to have extra RMI funds allocated to the establishment of a daily, continuous winter bus service from the city’s downtown to the ski hill, but the move would have cost the Rossland Museum and its planned renovation in the process.
Tourism Rossland (TR) had made two proposals to the City of Rossland—the gatekeeper of the hotel room tax money coming from the province—with each one based on the number of hotel rooms certified under Destination B.C.
Currently, the city’s accommodation inventory sits under the 450 room mark, giving it a one per cent revenue return from the province. Having over 450 rooms approved by the province would give the city RMI funding of two per cent and enough money to operate the daily shuttle bus service.
However, since the $17,5000 in the RMI account was earmarked as seed money for the museum’s renovation, TR has now shied away from the one per cent proposal. It was changed to a request to council by TR under the two per cent scenario, said TR’s executive director Deanne Steven.
But the real game afoot is even if all of the pieces fall into place—with the requisite number of rooms being approved for the higher funding model—there is no guarantee the money will be released by the city for the bus shuttle project, said Steven.
The RMI for Rossland needs a terms of reference, she noted. A terms of reference would set a committee, outline how the RMI money would be spent, who is in charge of a project, how to record expenses and how to get matching funding.
She said if the province approves the required number of accommodation units in the city and the RMI is bumped to two per cent, there is nothing that says the shuttle service would receive the funding. TR would have to petition the city again for the funds.
“If we go out and get this funding which helps the entire community, we are still left in the dark as to the process of how to deal with it,” she said. “If we knew what we needed to do we would just do it. But we kind of end up having to go around and around a bit.”
TR asked for a terms of reference last year and were told the city would create one. To date there is nothing on record, but something is expected to be made public this month, Steven was informed.
Based on the two per cent tax there could be an annual cost drawn from the RMI of $48,000 for the shuttle service. The expanded scope of the service would cost around $78,000 for the season. Last year it cost TR $14,000 to operate the shuttle on a much more limited basis.
Additionally, Steven said TR had raised $22,375 in support from local businesses and organizations for the internal bus and are working with a supplier to negotiate terms of a contract.
TR and the business community wanted council to approve the release of further RMI funding to help fund the expanded shuttle service in the coming years to ensure its sustainability, but not at the expense of the museum.
In the event something happens at the museum regarding renovations, said Libby Martin, the Museum and Archives Association president, the RMI money would be used as seed money to leverage larger amounts. Currently, a request for proposals has gone out on the museum renovation, announced earlier this year.
“No money has been handed over, but the money was allocated for potential development at the museum,” said Martin. “Tourism Rossland’s initial proposal could have hampered our ability to provide matching funding for a project in the near future.”
Mayor Greg Granstrom said in a city council meeting July 15 that the corporate officer and museum are still expected to “hash out details” with Tourism Rossland and then present again to council on the two per cent application.
“But what was explained to them by staff was if they get the two per cent, we can call a special meeting and have that meeting in due time,” he said, and get the shuttle bus service approved. “There’s no need for us to see them before that when we don’t know about the two per cent and I don’t even know if the inspector will make it in August.”
“So council is not dithering over a decision; it is not us holding this up?” asked councillor Kathy Moore.
“No,” said Granstrom. “And they still have their own money and can operate (a shuttle) within their budget.”
Or not. In a meeting next week Tourism Rossland board of directors will decide if there is a will to continue pursuing the project if there is no terms of reference in place to guide the project.
A lot of city businesses are ready to put money in and the project is just running out of time, said Steven.
“Even if inspector comes and approves (two per cent), I still don’t think we will have enough time because it takes so long at the city level for the process to move along,” she said. “And with no clear process in place it’s even harder. There is a very strong chance at this point (of the service not going ahead).”
The two per cent is the calculated portion of the hotel room tax the city—directed by Tourism Rossland—receives from the province from its general revenue.
The RMI was started in 2006 with 14 RMI communities, of which Rossland is the smallest. Rossland will receive $28,362 in 2013 from the initiative.
In 2012 the Resort Development Strategy (RDS) was amended to include a pilot project for an internal shuttle service with a budget for $11,000. This was financially possible by using left over (unused) funds from previous years from the RMI.
For 2013/14 winter ($11,000) and 2014/15 winter ($7,000), unused funds are earmarked for the internal shuttle. But after 2014/2015 no funds will be available based on the projected amount of RMI funds allocated to Rossland.
Shuttle bus shuffle
The new plan is for a shuttle bus to operate every day during the winter (when the Red Mountain is open) from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and would be free, continuously looping through the city every hour to 45 minutes.
Last year, with funding from the RMI, TR set up a partnership with Red Mountain Academies and contracted it out to a Trail-based company to offer a limited service to the hill for the first time. They had 780 trips, with around 22 riders per day based on three round trips.
If TR is successful with the two per cent increase to the hotel room tax revenue then a delegation to council to request an amendment to the RMI plan will be necessary followed by approval of the province.
The proposed shuttle would be a partnership with Red Mountain Academies, Red Mountain Resort and local businesses and stakeholders.