Thursday, January 14, 2016

Legacy Corporation funding making for some fractures at City council

"Legacy Fund is owned by the people of this town, it is the residents money as well as the council's money" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham speaking during a discussion on Community Enhancement Grants at Monday's City Council session 

Councillor Barry Cunningham's reminder to council Monday on a key aspect of the city's Legacy Fund, part of a wide ranging discussion on the fate of this years Community Grant Process, provided a short glimpse into what appears to be a few differences of opinion among Council members, when it comes to the financial fund created by Council in 2014.

His comments, as well as those from Councillor Randhawa on the night, were part of a thirty minute or so exchange of thoughts on the theme, highlighting some of the competing themes when it comes to making use of the pool of money that the City has received from an LNG proponent over the last two years.

It opened a door a bit for residents, who don't hear much about the City controlled Legacy Fund Inc., a mechanism launched during the final weeks of the Jack Mussallem era at City Hall, but a fund that for the most part has been put to use by Mayor Brain and the current Council for initiatives related to Planning for Major Projects.

Since it's incorporation back in the Spring of 2014, there hasn't been much in the way of a review for the public on the progress of Legacy Inc.

The topic of the Legacy Fund rarely gets mentioned during Public Council sessions, while the location on the City's website dedicated towards the fund offers up but the barest of details on what the Fund is about.

While there are frequent updates on many other City Council accomplishments and projects, an ongoing and  updated document as to how the Legacy Fund is being put to use is not at the moment part of the information flow from City Hall.

That's something that should change, as the City should put that same dedication that they show to their future plans, towards providing information to its residents on how they are using the Legacy Fund, breaking down the spending components of the fund and showing us just what we are getting for our money so to speak.

The most recent public update to Council came in September 2015, when the City's Financial Officer delivered  a short summary of the current financial aspects of the fund.  But there's little in the way of supporting information available when it comes to an in depth update and accounting of how the money that has been spent to this point has been allocated.

We do receive the odd snippet of information from time to time on Legacy, usually tied into the release of a study from the City, report to Council, vision plan or other such document, but for many we imagine, the workings of the Legacy Fund still seem like a bit of a mystery.

Last spring, Council offered up some notes on  a few of their plans for the Legacy Fund, focused on such areas as infrastructure issues, as well as a number of reports and presentations on major projects and planning.

At that time, it was also noted that through that funding for planning for Major Projects and Planning, there had been a bump in the Mayor's salary last year, as well as an increase to the civic employment rolls for positions that council says are related to that planning for future growth.

Mr. Cunningham's comments of Monday however perhaps echo some of the frustration of residents about the nature of the fund and how it has been allocated through towards planning for major projects, while recreation fees go up and recommendations are made to cut back funding to libraries.

"You just mentioned that this money came from an LNG company and it's the Legacy Fund for this city and at the same you said its for the infrastructure of the city, well I consider these institutions part of the infrastructure of the city"  ... "One thing residents don't want is to have their taxes increased, secondly they don't want their services cut, it's a balancing act that sometimes we get caught with and that, but we've had no trouble dipping into Legacy for other things and I see no problem dipping into it for one year ... I don't think we're setting a precedent here" -- Councillor Cunningham speaking on Legacy Fund issues at Council Monday night.

There appear to be some growing differences
of opinion  at City Council on how to
best use the City's Legacy Fund 
As we noted on the blog yesterday, the discussion at Council on Monday found Councillors Cunningham and Randhawa in agreement in seeking to put some of the Legacy funds towards the Community Grant process this year.

Something that would keep the grant recipients at current levels, though in the end an approach rejected by those voting on the motion Monday night.

During the course of the discussion, both the Mayor and Councillor Mirau made fairly strong defences of the status quo when it came to the Legacy Fund, showing a fair amount resistance to using that fund for anything other than the planning for Major projects aspects, noting how they did not wish to see the fund dipped into for Operational requirements.

Councillors Niesh and Kinney didn't speak to the issue of the Legacy Fund during the course of the discussion on Monday, but did vote to move forward with the motion that would redistribute some of the Library funding, which in this case, would seem to suggest that they agreed with the Mayor and Councillor Mirau in the question of access to the Legacy money.

Councillor Joy Thorkelson, a long time advocate of Community Grant applicants was not in attendance at Monday's session, so her position on the prospect of using some of the Legacy Fund money for such issues was not part of the discussion on the night.

Considering the apparent difference of opinions on the theme of Monday, it would appear to be a topic that requires a bit of clarification from Council members, giving residents some indication as to where each member of Council is at when it comes to the use of the fund and how they believe the City should direct spending from it.

While long term planning is obviously an important aspect of any work that Council takes on, so to is providing valuable and tangible services for the residents of the community.

Particularly in an era of tough economic times and with many struggling to find extra money for such things as recreation and other social related programs.

In the case of the library, reducing its funding seems particularly short sighted, since the Library is one of the few free options for residents to make use of and one that is perhaps most used by the youth and those of limited financial resources in the community.

Dedicating a portion of the Legacy Fund towards just such situations would seem like a logical solution to an issue and something that wouthe ld no doubt resonate well with residents.

You can review the full discussion on the theme from Monday from the City's Video archive found starting at the 44 minute mark.

Over the last year, some members of council seem trapped in a swirl of policy and vision planning and appear to be missing the current of some of the more immediate concerns that residents may have, Councillor Cunningham taps into that element of the debate, Council members would be wise to consider some of what he has had to say.

The City has launched a number of studies of over the last year, an LNG GO Plan, the Hays 2.0 vision, as well as projects related population and housing review to name a few.

Perhaps Council should also seek out the counsel of the folks that as Council Cunningham reminds them, are the co-owners of the Legacy fund, the residents of the city.

They might be able to help Council with the dilemma of how to approach that Legacy Fund spending, offering some guidance as to the collective wishes of the residents of the city.

Perhaps like Monday's library plan, that will require some redistribution of the planning for major projects money, directing it towards more immediate items of concern for the residents of the city.

More on Monday's City Council session can be found on our Timeline page, while further background on City Council discussions can be reviewed on our Council Archive.

You can review some of our past items related to the Legacy Fund from our archive page here.

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