To the editor:
The financial guidelines document which the City of Kelowna adopted on August 24 (Principles and Strategies for Financial Strength and Stability) has a goal of providing residents with “the best balance between environmental protection, economic growth, social development and cultural vibrancy” while keeping taxes low.
This is no easy feat, but it is often practiced through partnerships and enterprise (p.11 of document). While most of the partnerships and enterprises involve cost-sharing with the city, there is one enterprise which comes with no charge to taxpayers, but provides invaluable benefits. I quote par. 7.6 “The City recognizes the significant value of volunteers, volunteer groups and agencies to the spiritual, social, cultural, and physical well-being of the community.” There is also a financial benefit of volunteer services, but the report has not explicitly said so.
Unfortunately, instead of considering the pros and cons of neighbourhood associations’ input, the city often responds by conducting surveys, open houses, and public hearings—all with associated costs. I would be surprised to learn that such surveys are conducted by an independent company. I once worked with a person who would ask me how to spell a certain word only to then reach for a dictionary to check my spelling. Granted, the city does not ask neighbourhood associations for their opinion.
We have all seen and benefited from services of volunteers at the airport, hospital, theatres, schools, and even R.C.M.P. But there are at least ten quasi-volunteer groups which deserve to be included among recognized volunteers. They are the neighbourhood associations, sometimes called residents’ associations.
Neighbourhood associations speak to the city about concerns voiced by their members. While drawing the city’s attention to local concerns, the associations provide Mayor and Council with a view that has been overlooked by city staff whose recommendations council generally approves if there is no public opposition to inspire further debate and scrutiny.
Neighbourhood associations are the proof-readers of proposals. They spot flaws, offer suggestions, and try to help Council come to decisions that are good for the city, the neighbourhood, and individual residents. They do this free of charge, though the cost in energy expended by the memberships cries out to be acknowledged with appreciation.
Two heads are generally better than one (though Mr. Putin would dispute that) and a number of heads discussing an issue better than two. That is what Neighbourhood Associations do for the city when they raise concerns and solutions to Council. Each week Mayor and Councillors have to consider often complicated projects or developments presented to them by city staff. If the intrusion of objections and recommendations by neighbourhood associations adds to Council’s burden of office, it is a burden that must be accepted by them in a democratic society.
Helen Schiele, Kelowna