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Greenbelt Advisory Board January 24

Weighting of criteria for allocating funds
Warwick Jones, Editor

Yesterday's meeting of the Greenbelt Advisory Board was taken up largely with the discussion of prioritization criteria for assessing greenbelt projects. No hard decisions were made but most likely will be made at the next meeting. An important decision as to whether the GAB or municipalites assess projects in Urban areas also has to be made. This too will be discussed at the next meeting.

After the preamble, a final decision was made on the Statement of Intent for the allocation of sales tax funds for Greenbelts. At the previous meeting, a ratio of 70/30 for Rural and Urban was agreed to. As well, "minor improvements" on land or part of rights that could be funded by the sales tax were specifically defined. These were discussed in the note covering the meeting of two weeks ago.

Statement of Intent approved
Nobody had any objection to the final except yours truly. I drew attention to the fact that some critical words had been omitted and that there had been no discussion of the omission. I asked why they had been left out and suggested that they be re-inserted. The words were "in part" and in effect said the allocation of funds "in part" should be in consideration of the 70/30 ratio. I did not ask to change the ratio, but opined that the GAB might need a little flexibility in its determinations. My comment was greeted with either indifference or disinclination to amend the statement. No explanation for the omission was given. I didn't persevere.

Draft of point scoring system
Before us yesterday was a draft prepared by the Consultant, Greenways Inc., that suggested a means for assessing priorities. For rural grants, the suggestion was as follows.
Project description - 40 points
Need and urgency - 20 points
Benefits - 15 points
Funding and Leverage - 10 points
Public and Partnership Support - 10 points
Ability to accomplish goals - 5 points
Total possible - 100 points

The scoring system was broken down further with subcategories under each of the above. The system for urban grants was identical to the above though the subcategories understandably were different.

There was much discussion about the above and the subcategories. For some of us, it was the first time we had seen such a system so we were restrained by ignorance. The consultant said he had been guided in part by the system used by the SC Conservation Bank. To help us, we asked whether we could see a copy of its system and point allocation.

Greater weighting needed for leverage and public access
It seemed universal that members agreed to a greater weighting for leverage. If a project could draw more funds from other sources, then it deserved to be higher up the rating system and scoring should be adjusted to reflect this. A greater weighting should also be given to allowing public access to properties financed by the sales tax. It was noted that the Conservation Bank weighted public access.

The public's view should also be more heavily weighted. In some degree, its view was in the questions posed in the subcategories but it seemed very diluted. It needed more emphasis.

Too complex?
The chairman thought that the system was too complicated and that maybe it could be simplified. Another member opined that simplicity was difficult given all the criteria that needed to be considered while another said that generally, the merit of a particular project would show through whether we make minor adjustments to point allocations or not.

As usual, the Consultant listened and notes were taken. Somehow, he has to collate all the suggestions and meld them into another draft, for consideration at the next meeting. And as somebody also said, there will never be complete agreement on a point scoring system like this. As long as we can develop a system that is fair and workable.

Potential issue of oversight for the municipalities
At the close of the meeting, the Consultant asked us to think about the question likely to be before us at the next meeting. This related to the allocation of funds for the municipalities of the County. Should the Cities just be given an allocation of funds and be allowed to determine projects according to criteria determined by the GAB? This would mean that the GAB would be unable to exercise its oversight role. The argument for this loosening of responsibility is that the County has limited ability to issue bonds presently. This is relevant in that it seems to be the consensus that if greenbelt acquisitions are to be made, they should be made quickly because land values are rising. The only way to raise funds would be through bond issues on which interest and amortization would be drawn from future sales tax proceeds.

However, is the GAB, the PRC or County Council prepared to give up an oversight role in the interests of financial expediency?

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB

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