By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
A $100,000 monument honoring wildfire volunteers will be erected at the site that served as the evacuation centre in Kamloops last summer.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District board of directors voted Thursday (Nov. 9, 2017) to put the money in next year’s budget. Kamloops taxpayers will foot most of the bill because the City contributes the largest part of tax dollars to the region.
A report from staff reviewed the outstanding contributions of hundreds of volunteers during the wildfires and proposed the Sandman Centre as the location for a piece of public art to pay tribute to them.
“This incredible display of volunteerism cannot go unacknowledged,” CAO Sukh Gill wrote in a report to the board.
“A permanent, artistic monument or statue offers us the opportunity to recognize these contributions effectively, and on an on-going basis.”
He said the cost is significant but justified.
I support the idea of a statue or some other public art being erected, and I think the Sandman Centre is a good place for it, but I opposed the plan as presented for three reasons: cost to the taxpayer, process and scope.
Spending $100,000 in tax money is totally unnecessary. The existing wildfire memorial erected in front of the Civic Building at Victoria and 5th in honour of volunteers, emergency responders and victims was commissioned and erected at no public cost.
Corporate donations totaled $91,000, covering the whole thing. So why commit $100,000 of tax money when fundraising could easily pay for it?
In 2003, the TNRD board created a special committee to call for proposals, short-list the seven that were received, and make a final recommendation to the board. As well, the TNRD building maintenance committee was involved.
The process then included TNRD board and City council reps, staff and arts community representation. As approved Thursday, this new project will be handled entirely by staff.
Another reason I don’t like the proposal as it stands is that it singles out volunteers for appreciation but doesn’t include reference to the many evacuees and other victims of the wildfires, or to firefighters and other responders who fought so valiantly against the fires.
Admittedly, I initiated the 2003 project and was involved in it through the entire process, so I’m biased towards the methodology used back then, but when there’s a template that worked well, and worked without cost to the taxpayers, I find it hard to figure out why we would significantly narrow the process and approve such an expenditure when non-tax dollars could have been used.
Maybe I’m too stuck on the details. As I said, I support a public-art piece acknowledging the efforts during the wildfires, and that’s what we’ll have at the end of it all.
My posts as TNRD director don’t purport to be objective but are, rather, my view of regional district decisions and issues.