On Tuesday, more than 40 community groups turned out to ask for a piece of the pie from the Columbia Basin Trust’s Affected Areas & Community Initiatives Program.
They were seeking $641,955 in funding for 48 different projects that have a total value of more than $2.3 million. The CBT has a bit more than $400,000 to give out to the community this year.
One-by-one, representatives from each group got up to make their case. They were given 2.5 minutes each to speak. Add in an introduction, moments between speakers, and an intermission, and the meeting ran about three hours, or so I was told.
I didn’t stick around. I’m almost certain the only people that did were representatives of the community groups seeking funding. The meeting is too long and the presentations too repetitive year-after-year, so that most people have stopped paying attention, including myself. I don’t have hard numbers, but it feels like more people attended in the past.
The current system was set up when the funding program was launched 20 years ago. Back then, the city decided there should be some sort of public input into who gets the money. Revelstoke’s approach was pioneering and adopted by many other communities throughout the Columbia basin. 15 per cent of an application’s score is based on their community support.
The problem is that voting takes place after the meeting, and the only people at the meeting are those asking for money. This means they’re the ones voting and that there isn’t input from the community at large.
There’s no simple way to get broader input. I brought up the issue with Alan Mason, who oversees the program for the City of Revelstoke, and Loni Parker, the director for Area B Rural Revelstoke.
My question for them was: Is there a way to get the information online so more people can find out about the projects, and so more people can vote? Not everyone can attend a meeting at a fixed time, but they might be interested in browsing through the list of projects either at home, or during a break at work.
Mason said the upside to the meeting is that you have to hear about every proposal if you want to vote. It’s a great way for finding out what Revelstoke’s many community groups are up to. “The downside is it’s boring and repetitive,” he added.
Parker disagreed there was an issue. “At the end of the day, when you look at the results, it’s still a pretty good process,” she said. “All the other groups that want money get to see what other groups want money for, and they get to see there’s a whole myriad of things happening in the community that build the fabric of our town.”
At the same time, she agreed it would be great to see more people out, but added that perhaps more people would only come out if they felt there was a problem with how the funding was being allocated.
When I suggested having an online vote, Parker said it was a good idea, but raised some questions of how to do it. The binder with all the project proposals is quite thick, she said, and few people would be willing to take the time to actually read it.
“If you went with online input, it could be more biased to people comfortable with online input,” said Mason.
Here’s my proposal:
—Have each group write up a short summary of the project they want funding for. Cap it at a 200 words and post it online.
— Have an online vote, but to be sure it’s not abused, make sure everyone can only vote once and require they input a Revelstoke address. Have people check off a box if they support a project as they go down the list, or let them assign a score of 1-10. Make sure its quick and simple.
— Keep the public meeting and have it count for more points than the online vote. The reason for that is because it shows more dedication to attend the meeting and cast your vote there. It also counter-balances the possibility of people spamming the system, and makes sure the results aren’t skewed by groups who are better able to get out the vote on social media.
I haven’t considered the cost of setting up this system, which could be a deal breaker. My hope is to encourage some discussion that would help open up the process and encourage more people to be more engaged and informed.