Nanaimo city council voted to adopt a new policy outlining how to recognize, engage with and support neighbourhood associations.
A report from city staff was presented by Chris Sholberg, community heritage planner, and Lisa Brinkman, manager of community planning, at a meeting Monday, April 25.
The process to create the neighbourhood association supports policy was started in February 2020.
Neighbourhood associations are organizations of volunteers who advocate for the concerns of residents within the areas they represent, and sometimes organize programs and special events. The city’s communication with neighbourhood associations is one of the ways that council and staff engages with and learns from the community.
The policy sets out criteria for groups to be formally recognized as neighbourhood associations, and also sets out steps the city will take to engage with those groups. Council also voted in favour of city staff’s recommendation to establish a $10,000 annual budget, to be included in the 2023-27 draft financial plan, for a neighbourhood grant program that neighbourhood associations could draw upon to cover certain operating costs.
Councillors did express concern about some aspects of the policy. Coun. Tyler Brown said although the policy is “really well done,” he is concerned about potential future costs of resources being made available to neighbourhood associations.
“I think there’s some items here that look like one line, but probably, in practice, will expand and continually expand, especially as expectation expands. I think that’s probably the appropriate thing to do if we want to support this type of initiative in the neighbourhoods, but I think we would be foolish to believe that offering a policy like this, down the line if fully implemented, probably would require more staff, so I think that’s beyond the $10,000 or $20,000. I think we’re going to be looking at an FTE, which is $100,000-plus.”
Brown also wanted to know what mechanism the city has to follow up with neighbourhood associations to be sure they’re continuing to meet the criteria, such as having an elected executive, to maintain status as recognized neighbourhood associations.
Sholberg replied that the neighbourhood associations supported the criteria, which he said are consistent with how other municipalities deal with their neighbourhood associations. He said city staff can apply the criteria and review minutes of meetings to monitor compliance with the policy.
Coun. Jim Turley asked how the grant money would be spent by the neighbourhood associations, and Brinkman said the general purpose is for operating costs such as liability insurance, online meeting platforms and other software, website development and community events.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht asked if $10,000 was enough to be spread among multiple neighbourhood associations and Sholberg said the amount is intended as a starting point.
“With a new program that’s being created, it’s good to test it for a year or two, see what the uptake is on it and we can always come back to council to request additional consideration for increased funding, but it’s a good start point and I think it will give us sufficient funding for at least a couple applications every year,” Sholberg said.
He said further consultation with the neighbourhood associations and experience gained in the program as it evolves might provide better information about funding assistance and maximum dollar amounts for funding applications.
“I must say, Coun. Geselbracht, it’s a lot easier to raise a teenager’s allowance than it is to cut it, I assure you,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.
Council voted to adopt the policy and to approve the creation of the grant program, with Turley voting in opposition to both motions.
“Mine was a protest vote as we had just voted against a development that the neighbourhood association was in favour of,” said Turley, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin. “My thought process was, why are we [providing] tax dollars to groups whose advice we do not agree with? Sounds a bit hypocritical.”
To learn more about Nanaimo’s neighbourhood associations, visit http://rb.gy/yhazxy.