Smithers town council was torn on whether or not to write letters of support for two groups applying for grant money that the town is also seeking.
At the Dec. 13 regular meeting of council, Economic Development Officer Will George recommended council approve an application to the 2023 Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program (REDIP) for $100,000 in funding to support economic development-related projects in 2023.
George told council that REDIP supports rural economic development projects that promote economic capacity building, economic diversification, resilience, clean economy opportunities, and infrastructure development.
REDIP is a new grant provided through the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation which was announced on November 15. This grant is similar to the retired BC Rural Dividend Program, which the Town of Smithers has historically been approved for.
Staff recommended the town apply under the Economic Diversification funding category to best utilize available funding, leverage the existing economic development budget, and ensure key priorities are applied for first.
These projects would include: an economic development strategic plan; Northern Development Initiative Trust capacity building intern; shop local program; economic development marketing materials; Smithers Airport land and development opportunities report; business retention workshops and local entrepreneurship development campaign.
All of council was on board to apply for the grant money. The split came later in the agenda when the Smithers Skate Park Society and Cycle 16 Trail Society both requested letters of support from the town to add to their REDIP grant applications.
The Skate Park Society is looking for money to go toward Phase 2 of the skate park expansion.
“This is a terrible situation to be in,” said Mayor Gladys Atrill. “And we’re actually only being asked for a letter of support by an outside organization, who is working very hard on a project, and they’ve poured their hearts and souls into it.”
However, she decided not to support writing either letter.
“It’s very, very hard for me not to say that I would write a letter of support for (the) skatepark society, because they have been amazing,” she added. “And I’m sure that if they’re watching, they’re horrified by my words.
“But in this case, we also have to be stewards of this organization, in my view, and I think we’ve embarked on a path where we’ve got a person in place, who’s trying to move us along a certain path and this is one way that we could support that. So, if we want to enable our staff to go forward, I think in this case, I have to be wearing the hat of councillor.”
Cycle 16 is looking for grant money to pay for their detailed design drawings for Phase 3 of the Smithers to Telkwa multi-use trail.
Councillor Calvin Elliott disagreed with Atrill.
“I think we should just support all three, and then let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
In the end, the motions to send letters of support for both organizations passed, but not unanimously, with Atrill and Buikema opposing the letter for the skatepark society and Atrill, Buikema and Coun. Sam Raven opposing the one for Cycle 16.