It was a full house at city hall chambers Tuesday evening when six city councillors voted in favour of renewing Scout Island Nature Centre’s $12,500 fee-for-service contract for a three-year period.
The only person to vote against it was Mayor Walt Cobb who said after the meeting it was never about the money.
“I know about the good work they do, that was not the issue,” he said. “It’s about the things they will not let us do down there.”
Normally very few people attend the council meetings, but after the Jan. 31 committee of the whole meeting when three councillors voted against renewing the fee for service — Cobb and councillors Jason Ryll and Craig Smith — and two voted in favour — councillors Ivan Bonnell and Scott Nelson — members of the public rallied to show their support for the centre by writing hundreds letters and contacting city councillors and encouraging each other to attend the meeting.
Coun. Laurie Walters said she appreciated the letters and was proud of the community.
“It is almost shame on Williams Lake that it has come to this point for $12,500, and I’m not just speaking to Scout Island, but I am speaking about all the fees for service we pay for this community,” Walters said. “I don’t think the community would be opposed to a 50 cent raise in taxes to pay for them.”
On behalf of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists who run Scout Island, Sue Hemphill made a presentation asking that the funding continue.
As the centre’s executive director and education co-ordinator, Hemphill reminded council the fee-for-service contract with the city stipulates they must operate the nature house through the year offering selected exhibitions, education programs, guided school tours, walks and special events.
“We have been spending every penny with exactly what you’ve asked us,” she said. “We use the money to leverage other funds.”
The $12,500 amounts for 15 per cent of staff, Hemphill said, noting for a year
it costs $150,000 cash to run Scout Island and another $95,000 worth of volunteer hours.
Utility costs are covered by the city in the amount of about $10,000 year, and a new electric furnace installed and paid for by the field naturalists is saving about $1,000 a year.
Hemphill said in the last 10 years more than $214,000 has been spent on the trails and $31,280 of that came from the city.
Another $129,800 has been expended improving the nature house — again done and paid for by the field naturalists.
There are many misunderstandings out in the community about Scout Island, Hemphill told council.
“We never removed the foxes,” she said. “They left on their own because there wasn’t enough food for them on the island.”
Scout Island is receiving no funding from the school district for the nature kindergarten which opened there this year, she added.
“It’s just another one of the school programs we have been providing.”
After the vote, Hemphill said it felt good to have council’s support.
“Even the ones that had been initially against renewing the fee for service reconsidered,” Hemphill said of the fact councillors Jason Ryll and Craig Smith initially voted to cut the fee.
Smith said originally he voted against the agreement at the committee of the whole meeting because he wanted to open up dialogue.
“There are people who remember how Scout Island used to be and would like maybe to have some of those things come back,” Smith said.
Mayor Cobb said Nature Trust, who owns the island, is a multi-million dollar environmental group yet it only contributes $1,000 a year to Scout Island.
He also read out a statement listing complaints he has received around limited use of Scout Island such as boating restrictions, no room for more memorial benches, no concession stand, or the amount of goose droppings on the beach.
“I continually get complaints about the horrible condition of the causeway and other areas,” he added.
There were, however, some people at the meeting who, like Cobb, want more things going on at Scout Island.
“There are other points of view out there and although there is a great value to some of the things done at Scout Island and we appreciate that but they come as a detriment to what others would like to see done there,” Cobb said.
Hemphill said so many people attended Tuesday’s meeting because they care about Scout Island.
“It’s their place and people are unhappy when someone tries to take away something that’s important to them.”
Here Councillor Craig Smith and Sue Hemphill discuss the fee-for-service contract during the meeting.