Town looks to community for direction on restart funds

Gibsons councillors have supported a recommendation by Mayor Bill Beamish to hire a consultant to engage with residents and community groups as council decides how to spend the remainder of its $1.5-million COVID-19 restart funding.

The decision came following a report by the mayor at a Jan. 5 regular council meeting, in which he said council should “consult with the community and with community organizations.”

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He recommended the Town consult with seniors, local businesses, non-profits, the Gibsons and District Public Library, the Affordable Housing Society, the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization, Gibsons Community Building Society, School District No. 46 and Sunshine Coast Tourism.

Separate “dialogues” could be held for the community in general, he suggested.

The Town has a responsibility to allow non-profits access to the funds to deal with COVID-19 impacts, said Beamish.

As an example, he said a group is looking for funding for a freezer for prepared meals for seniors. Other groups may need help purchasing personal protective equipment.

The Town received its portion of the COVID-19 Safe Restart program money for local governments in November, jointly funded by B.C. and the federal government.

In December, council approved spending $382,000 to cover short-term costs related to the pandemic, the bulk of which covered computer purchases and IT upgrades and maintenance.

Coun. Aleria Ladwig said a letter should be distributed in addition to councillors liaising with community groups, as Beamish suggested in his letter.

She also supported hiring a consultant, since the restart funds could pay for it.

Beamish put mid-February as a timeline but some councillors questioned whether that was too soon. “February might be a challenge,” said Coun. Stafford Lumley, since the impacts of the pandemic will be longer term.

Beamish said he chose it to align with the budget process, and also noted “the need is today” for many groups.

Lumley also emphasized the need for a grant-like application process to ensure money is allocated appropriately.

Beamish suggested vetting criteria could be applied. He said the Town could set aside grants of assistance specifically for minor COVID-19-related expenses for community groups.

Staff said a separate line in the budget could be established to distribute funds, separately from the existing grants of assistance program.

Councillors voted unanimously to hire a consultant to develop a program and develop terms of reference, to be approved by council at a later date.

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