Updated June 23
Or is there a better way to spend the money & help the environment?
As reported by the Waterloo Region Record in January, City of Kitchener staff recommended ending the Local Environment Action Fund and using the remainder of the funds “removing and replacing street trees killed by the emerald ash borer ($1.1 million), as well as on the Huron Natural Conservation Area ($550,000), Victoria Park improvements ($360,000), McLennan Park ($600,000), the Walter Bean Trail ($100,000) and community trails ($750,000).” In the end though, council decided that public consultations should be held before any decisions were made.
Compass Kitchener was asked to hold the consultations because it was not associated directly with any of the options on the table. It also has a role as a consultative body with a desire to enhance public engagement. I’ll state upfront that while I am on Compass Kitchener, I am not a part of the subcommittee holding the consultations nor will I be directly involved in writing the recommendations.
These consultations are already under way. Indeed, two public consultations and a youth consultation have been held and the end is in sight. I had hoped to write this post earlier in the process but unfortunately was unable to do so.
Deadline extended until July 31
You still have time to make your voice heard by participating in the online portion of the consultations. The deadline for submissions is now July 31.
Before responding, the city requests that you read and consider some background information:
- Emerald Ash Borer
- Hidden Valley community (Map of Hidden Valley community)
- LEAF program
- Unfunded parks and trails projects
Option 1: Retain the LEAF program
Officially, the consultations are considering four options.
To me though, I think that we first need to decide if the LEAF program should continue. City staff and some members of council believe that the program has not achieved its founding vision. That may be true. But does that mean that the program should be cut short and its remaining funds dispersed? Or is it possible to achieve the program’s objectives if how it is operated and promoted revised?
The consultations are not covering how the program or promotion could be revised. That task would be left to city staff and presumably council.
But if you believe that the original vision for the LEAF program funds is still the best one, you should let the consultations know.
Alternatives for remaining LEAF funds
Three options have been suggested for how the remaining $3 million be used:
- Developing parks and trails
- Eradicating Emerald Ash Borer
- Preserving Hidden Valley
You may also suggest other options.
A few quick thoughts
I haven’t finished reviewing all of the material yet so I’m still thinking but here are a few thoughts that I’m starting with:
- My initial reaction was that we should keep the LEAF fund and find a way to make it work.
- While it has done good things, it hasn’t been transformational in the way desired.
- I think there must be ways for the criteria of programs and outreach/promotion to help it be a catalyst for bigger and better things.
- If LEAF is discontinued, I suggest the funds must still be used as a catalyst for change and/or meet the same criteria used for projects funded by LEAF:
- Contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases produced by the city’s own operations and/or the community at large.
- Increase public awareness of the environmental impact of the actions of municipal governments, communities, businesses, families and/or individuals, and promote changed behaviour at this local level.
- Provide a long-term, sustainable benefit to Kitchener
- While I could make an argument that dealing with the effects of the Emerald Ash Borer meets the criteria, I don’t believe that it meets the original intent of these criteria.
- For the same reason, I’m not sure it should be used to develop parks and trails. If the funds were used to go above and beyond what is an acceptable level for these services then I think that’d be great. But we have a significant deficit. I couldn’t believe it when I read that developed areas didn’t have playground equipment and could only get it by fundraising. That’s what our taxes should already be paying for. It’s tempting to use the LEAF funds to play catch up but I’d prefer for a significant transformational use for the funds.
- I think there is a case to be made for Hidden Valley as being the best use of the funds. But I’m still thinking. It may be better to just learn from the program’s failure to deliver and use that knowledge to rework it so that it has the desired impact.