February approaches, and with it comes the tedium, stress, disappointment and glad-handing that defines the penning of a government budget.
Bob Brant got an early — and audacious — start this week, appearing before Squamish council on behalf of the Squamish Trails Society (STS) to lobby for just over $500,000 in trails funding.
“In past years,” said Brant, “we’ve presented budget requests of about $25,000-30,000.”
That was then. This year, Brant called on council to spearhead “a paradigm shift” in its approach to the town’s trail system, which Brant called a massive community asset with dividends both tangible and intangible, be they a healthy citizenry or a robust tourism industry.
“We do appreciate that this is a substantial amount,” said Brant. “However, volunteers working on trails simply can’t keep up with demands any longer.”
The money would go toward a series of initiatives. First up, the funding and implementation of a district-wide master plan for trails. “It is absolutely necessary that we move on this proposal as soon as possible,” said Brant, “preferably within a month or two.”
STS would also like to see the budget address capital and operational funding for trails. Brant offered $10,000 if the district would double, triple or quadruple the figure.
The Squamish Adopt a Trail Program, with its companion website, should be promoted with more vigour, said Brant. That was a timely request, as council had moments before agreed to issue press releases notifying media of the website.
A signage program was also called for, as was a draft set of trail standards. To boot, a bike lane commuter route, with a companion bike lane bylaw, was requested, something the district is exploring anyway through its community development department. Finally, fair compensation was requested from developers whose projects interfere with pre-existing tails, as was a dirt bike park, which the STS believes would alleviate pressure on trails posed by motorized vehicles.
“It’s important that we have this paradigm shift,” said Brant, “and we’re asking council to lead the charge in that regard and start funding trails with a long term perspective, saying, okay, we can do this this year, that next year and that that year. Council has a three year term.”
Councillor Corinne Lonsdale waxed a little incensed. “It troubles me that the trail society does not think council has been proactive in paying attention to the trails,” she said. “There’s everything from soup to nuts on our plate, and we do our damndest to allocate funds where they need to go.”
Mayor Gardner said the funds requested were significant, especially considering the district is spending $800,000 on the Corridor Trail, half of which was leveraged from the Sea to Sky improvement project.
Support from the rest of council seemed no better than tepid, though there was consensus that further discussion will be necessary when the budgetary process gets underway.