The Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association has laid off employees and paused all programs and projects with the loss of city funding in the middle of its fiscal year.
The association is in “survival mode,” according to president John Cooper, whose board will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday (Feb.1) on budget and strategic priorities, including what projects have to be cancelled.
City council decided in camera to cut a matching grant to the association, an organization tasked with revitalizing downtown and behind events like Santa’s Workshop, the Bathtub Days Street Fair and Multicultural Festival. Instead a fund, equal to half of the grant, will be set up for any organization to apply for events and revitalization.
The move comes after a core review, which found the grant unprecedented and recommended it be discontinued, and was discussed publicly last week when the association called for the decision to be overturned. Cooper argued there wasn’t a chance for the board to give input to council.
The association was scheduled to make a presentation to councillors Dec. 12 but the item was removed. It was notified of council’s decision three days later.
Downtown businesses pay a levy that the city has matched for 16 years, according to the association.
Cooper said it’s not a problem if this is the direction in which the city wants to go, but his organization is facing a bylaw renewal in 2018 when it would pitch a new strategic plan and members could decide if they want to continue to pay into the business improvement association knowing there was no city grant.
As a result of this decision, he said the organization doesn’t have the resources to finish out its five-year strategic plan.
“I don’t understand why the city is rushing to cut the funding now when we can do a proper renewal and set a new direction that everyone agrees to,” Cooper said. “Right now, there’s a very high risk that a lot of our levy payers and our members are going to be pretty ticked off they still have to pay the money that the city is not living up to the matching grant.”
City manager Tracy Samra said the association was the first she consulted after the core review final report and there’s been regular meetings. She told the News Bulletin the city had offered, if the association was having money management issues, to give them money they would get later, earlier and for them to move Feb. 1 into free rental space, get free storage and reduce costs but the organization has not responded.
“We made offers to make sure that this had minimal impacts on their operation,” she said.
Cooper, however, is disappointed with communication. Samra was speaking to the association’s executive director, Corry Hostetter, but the board wanted to talk to council.
He said the association is receptive to ideas to increase efficiency, but no offer has been made and no details provided.
“She [Samra] has our response. Our response is that we are very open to this idea and we are anxious to hear more detail,” Cooper said.
Council agreed at a committee of the whole meeting last week to allow the association to present at its finance and audit committee meeting in March.
Coun. Diane Brennan, who made the motion, said she was seeing gross confusion and very little connection between different perspectives.
“That’s unfortunate I think because it has caused a lot of consternation for a partner that we’ve had for 16 years,” she said.
Coun. Gord Fuller, who was opposed, asked why do core services review if recommendations are not going to be taken into consideration? He said it took awhile to get to the point where it was decided 50 per cent would go to events.
“I think we have to move on with this,” he said.