The question of whether the Village of Pemberton should fund a Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce initiative aimed at developing a regional economic strategy prompted a heated discussion at the Village of Pemberton's July 10 council meeting, with Councillors Ted Craddock and Jennie Helmer voting against the funding request.
"Visioning engagement, looking at funding models. I mean, we've done this so many times," said Helmer. "What's different now—and what are we hoping to get?"
The Chamber is seeking to apply for a larger, federal government grant of $100,000 that would be used to develop the strategy.
But in order to do so, it must raise $25,000 on its own. The Chamber, therefore, requested that the Village provide up to $6,250 in cash and $6,250 in in-kind resources (such as staff time) to go towards the project. The Chamber is requesting the same amounts from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
The $125,000 would also be used to hire a project manager, who will be paid $30,000 a year over the project's two-year time frame.
The strategy would be developed by the Economic Development Task Force, which was formed in 2017 and has already met six times. Its members are the Chamber, the Village, the SLRD and First Nations.
Helmer took issue with a point in the proposal suggesting some of the money would be put towards branding and signage for the Pemberton area. "What's that mean. Is that a new Welcome to Pemberton sign? I just want to understand that a little bit better," she said.
Helmer also questioned the Village's role when it comes to drumming up business in the Pemberton area.
"I would argue that the Village's responsibility is about really making sure we're managing tourists as they come into town," she said. "I'm not entirely convinced it's the Village's responsibility to engage in branding."
For Craddock, the Chamber proposal lacked adequate measures of accountability.
He noted that it does not indicate how many hours the project manager is expected to work in a given year.
"I'm not happy with the one-piece-of-paper effort here," he said. "I think there is a lot of questions out there that seem to be unanswered."
Why, he asked, are the SLRD and the Village the only partner communities being asked to pay?
"I have a lot of issues with that," said Craddock. If 'this whole group is a collaborative,' then why isn't this whole group paying an equal share?"
Coun. Karen Ross—who sits on the task force along with the Village's communications officer and grant coordinator Jill Brooksbank—spoke up for the funding request, saying that the task force is doing important work on a volunteer basis, and that having a dedicated project manager will help take it to the next level.
"I see this as a really good opportunity. Our communities are growing, and to get a (federal government) Royal Dividend Fund of $100,000 is a real benefit to both our communities," she said.
Nikki Gilmore, chief administrative officer for the Village, said that the funds would come out of previously set-aside funds, from the Village's Community Initiative and Opportunities fund, and would not impact the taxpayer. Developing an economic strategy has been a Village priority for a "long time," she said, adding that most communities have one. It allows them to "know where they're headed" and apply for funding for projects.
Coun. James Linklater supported the request, though he did express reservations about the proposal. "We just got the terms of reference, and now we're being asked to fund it ... It seems like another one of those things where we're being pressured to fund it without some more detail on the math and deliverables moving forward," he said.
While the Village granted the request—with Ross, Linklater and Mayor Mike Richman supporting it—council made the funding contingent on the removal of any "wayfinding and related infrastructure costs" from the project proposal.
Council also asked staff to send the Chamber a letter requesting that the task force report back on how council and other stakeholders will be able to inform the economic development strategy as it takes shape.
In explaining his support, Richman said he hopes the regional economic strategy will bring about well-paying jobs in the community.
"I feel that there is value there, but it's a little bit nebulous," he said of the Chamber proposal.