One of the more popular community engagement events in the Columbia Basin will remain online for the third straight year.
The Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Program opened for grant applications earlier this month and — after a regional district board motion — adjudication will remain online.
Although the program relies upon community input into the grant award process — it has historically been through in-person meetings throughout the regional district communities — for the third straight year the regional district will use the online engagement tool.
But it wasn’t without some internal deliberations to resuurect the past. Area E director Ramona Faust asked why — since the Interior Health Authority had lifted some of its regulations — that the RDCK couldn’t return to its “ever famous” dot day.
“People are not as engaged in the online process,” she told the board in December meeting when the issue was raised. “I’m sure we could arrange dot day so it was COVID protocol safe.”
It was “just disappointing that in the last year of the term that we can’t do something that is more community-oriented,” she added.
The program, administered by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) under contract to the Trust, supports local projects in Basin communities. It allows the public to provide feedback on the grant awards to the adjudication community members for consideration in their decision making — with over 8,400 entries last year in the online program.
RDCK manager of corporate administration, Mike Morrison, said there was an option for the return to in-person community engagement meetings.
“It is possible but it is not the recommended approach. There are a number of things with the online engagement that staff feels would be preferable to continue with,” he said.
The main things would be to align the meetings with provincial health orders, someone checking for vaccinations and developing a COVID safety plan.
“There would be some additional effort involved, but it would be possible if that is the direction the board wants to go in,” he said.
There would also be extra costs involved for staff to check vaccinations and develop safety protocols, said board chair Aimee Watson.
Area G director Hans Cunningham said arrangements had been made to modify the in-person voting and that it was moving ahead in his area.
“And I have had tentative agreement with the IHA that this is an acceptable way of doing things,” he said. “What the public would miss out on is the individual presentations by the presenters, because people really loved that part but I am sorry but we won’t be able to do that.”
But it was brought forward that the regional district as a whole would have to either be online or in-person, not a split.
“While it is a good time of the year to get together, and it’s always a very positive experience for all of the things we have to do in our work, given the extra costs incurred to have to deal with a COVID-19 plan as well as staff to manage the vaccine checks, I am going to speak in favour of the online portal,” said Watson.
Cunningham said the plan didn’t require looking at vaccinations or anything more than when people would go into a grocery store, staying six feet apart.
“So you won’t need vaccination certificates or proofs of vaccinations,” he said. “In other words, the entire community will be allowed to participate regardless of what is going on, and that’s really why I would like to get back in person.”
Watson said the IHA would have to approve the plan and certain protocols would have to be in place ahead of time.
“What that all entails would require (RDCK) staff time to determine, so you still need it approved, so it’s not just as simple as saying everybody is being outside,” she said.
The motion for the online adjudication process passed.