You can’t fight City Hall.
Nor can you dissuade them from reversing what had been an intent for two weeks in cutting the Sustainability Commission’s $28,000 funding from the budget, thus drastically changing one of the city’s progressive institutions.
A stream of 10 people stood to speak before City council Monday night during the public comment period at the head of a special council budget meeting and made testament to the vital cog that was the commission, and asked council not to cut the money.
Sustainability Commission chair Terry Miller said the move to cut the commission’s funding was short sighted, and the amount of work and the cohesiveness of the City’s Strategic Sustainability Plan—drafted by the community—would be eroded, as would the connection between council and the community.
“Financial support is important, but the dollars pale in comparison to the need for council’s buy in to this process and the structure and people who are willing to stick their necks out for the good of this community,” he said.
The original amount requested by the commission was $35,000, and then was further reduced to $28,000, a sum $12,000 less than what the commission received in 2012.
That money helped fund a manager—Ann Damude—who was the glue that held together the various projects and task forces, and applied for community grants.
The commission was instrumental in staging projects such as last year’s successful Energy Diet, the State of Rossland Report, climate change adaptation, family friendly Rossland, tourism impact studies and was in the process of bringing in Rossland Car Share.
The debate on the commission’s funding was pulled out on its own from the overall City budget discussion. Councillor Kathy Moore felt it was unfair to “cherry pick” a community group like the Sustainability Commission and not touch or increase others, a move she deemed unfair without proper planning.
“I think this is inappropriate and quite disrespectful of the community groups themselves,” she said.
She moved a motion to reduce seasonal cleanup to once per year—instead of twice—and save enough money in the budget to retain the commission’s funding request.
With the motion on the table, council debated the merit of the commission versus providing core services like water, sewer and road maintenance. Councillor Jill Spearn core services were not the issue in Rossland.
“Core services are dealt with at every municipal government in Canada. That doesn’t stand us out above and beyond. But the sustainability program has put us into the limelight,” she said.
Council was guided last week to contemplate the cut to the budget by a reassurance by City staff that the duties of the commission could be handled in-house. Councillor Kathy Wallace said there hasn’t been time to clearly detail how that’s going to be done, and how it will be implemented.
“Council makes decisions based on the greater good of the community, and there are a lot of people in this community that don’t know what the Sustainability Commission is,” she said. “They don’t know what they do, and they see some pretty pieces of paper occasionally, but they wonder what their taxes dollars are going to.”
She said the funds needed to go to core services.
A vote defeated the motion 4-3—with Moore, Spearn and Tim Thatcher in favour—and the fate of the commission’s budget was sealed.
Later in the meeting, council voted to cut seasonal cleanup to once per year, but dovetail the saved money into the budget instead of for the commission.
The current structure of the Sustainability Commission, with its various task forces, is hard wired to the City through bylaw, said Miller, and it will continue.
“It’s still Rossland’s best bet for meaningful and positive change,” he said.
He vowed that the volunteers would continue to work on issues of sustainability no matter what council did. He also asked for a smooth transition plan as the commission’s work was folded into City Hall.
Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP)
In February 2007, the City of Rossland started work on a long-term sustainability strategy for the municipality.
The initiative, called Visions to Action, was framed around engaging the community in a conversation about the desired future of Rossland and building awareness within the community and beyond of how to plan for a better, more sustainable future.