Community open houses on the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Climate Action Plan are being rescheduled for the fall, and the board has approved spending $121,700 to support public engagement.
“These funds will go towards putting on events, advertising, consultant support and hiring a one-year contract position to support the communication and engagement process,” says Dan Elliott, RDCK communications co-ordinator.
The RDCK is also launching an online public engagement platform to create a hub to share ideas, provide feedback and ask questions on projects and initiatives within the RDCK.
An updated communication and engagement strategy was presented to the RDCK board at its June 15 meeting. The strategy involves “listening and information sharing” throughout the summer, with open houses and meetings on specific topics (transportation, land use, food and agriculture, water) in the fall.
The RDCK Climate Action Plan is designed as a guide for RDCK staff, to help them co-ordinate and prioritize local government initiatives to adapt to climate change. It includes things like supporting changes to the STEP building code, improving active transportation options, supporting community wildfire protection initiatives, and reducing RDCK energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
The board was set to adopt the plan in April, but pushback from some community members prompted the RDCK to put it on hold to allow further consultations – and that’s going to cost money.
At the June 15 meeting, staff asked for permission to spend $198,000 to hire a resilient communities co-ordinator for two years to support rescheduled public meetings and more robust public engagement. Staff warned if they didn’t, the sustainability planner’s work for the rest of the year would be swallowed up by the engagement process, putting other important initiatives on hold.
Some directors said the spending was well worth it.
“Our residents have indicated that we’re not communicating with them,” said Area H Director Walter Popoff. “Hiring a co-ordinator that can get the message out will decrease the workload on the sustainability committee … communicating out and engagement with the community is very important. We started this process, we might as well complete it. And I don’t believe we have the personnel to be able to do it.”
Others weren’t as enthusiastic about spending money to hire a consultant.
“My concern is how much we package into a communication exercise that just ends up fuelling the fire, versus how much we fund in action,” said Area A Director Garry Jackman. “We have assets that need real upgrades and money.”
“We say there’s not accurate information, but the other side is saying the same thing about the engagement,” added Kaslo Mayor Suzan Hewat. “We’re pushing our agenda, they’re pushing their agenda, and will we ever meet in the middle? Maybe not. So is it worth spending a bunch of money on it and diverting staff from other things, or hiring a new staff member when those funds could be used for actual actions?”
In the end, a majority of directors voted to pay for just one year of a support co-ordinator, and came up with the lower $121,700 figure. The funding will come from the provincial Local Government Climate Action Program, designed to support local governments’ climate action. The RDCK had the spending budgeted for next year, but will move it forward to support the consultation process.
Residents are encouraged to continue to provide their feedback over the summer to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the RDCK Climate Action Plan, go to www.rdck.ca/climateaction.