The Regional District of Central Okanagan has brushed aside the advice of district staff and reinstated annual funding to the Friends of Fintry Provincial Park Society.
The regional district had since 2004 provided the non-profit with $30,000 annually, a figure that grew to $39,000 in 2008, to support the group in hiring a director to work on “securing additional public benefits for the Fintry Provincial Park site.”
The society used that funding to hire Dan Bruce, who served as the group’s curator for the past 21 years, during which time he transformed the Manor House into what it is today.
In 2020 the board following a parks review voted to phase out funding for the group in 2022 and redirect the money directly into the regional parks service.
In a letter to the board, Friends of Fintry society vice president Michael Berry said despite “major effort,” the group has been unable to obtain new sponsors and funding.
“Now that the RDCO funding has ended, we will no longer have the services of a curator, and funding for a part-time business manager has also ended,” Berry said, arguing in his letter that the $40,000 grant provided good value to taxpayers.
It would cost RDCO staff much more to undertake the same work themselves, he said.
In a report to council this week, RDCO staff recommended the board stay the course and deny the funding request.
The board, however, was feeling regretful.
“I think that was a bad decision in the first place, by the previous board” said Lake Country mayor Blair Ireland. “This is not similar to any of the other parks… what those guys have accomplished at that park is second to almost nothing.”
“I don’t believe you guys treat the regional parks very well,” he continued, appearing to refer to the RDCO administration. “Seems to be very centrist in how the parks are looked after and managed.”
Local rural director Wayne Carson also strongly backed the group, explaining that the North Westside has no regional park and uses Fintry extensively.
“I was so disappointed when this funding was taken away, it just didn’t make sense to me.”
RDCO staff explained Fintry is a provincial park funded by the B.C. government and having a regional district subsidize a provincial park is unique. The Province, however, appears to be unwilling to fund the historical programming managed by the Friends of Fintry Society.
“All my life I have taken friends and visitors out to that park,” said Kelowna Coun. Charlie Hodge. “It behooves this board to support the Friends of Fintry and this program, it shouldn’t be a question.”
West Kelowna mayor Gord Milsom defended the prior board’s decision and noted that the regional district’s own parks don’t get the same type of funding as Fintry does, which is a provincial park.
“I looked at it as shifting that funding from a provincial park our regional parks,” he said, suggesting the provincial government was “downloading” responsibility to a lower level of government.
“The Fintry Park is a provincial park,” he reiterated.
RDCO board chair and Kelowna Coun. Loyal Wooldridge echoed those sentiments, and added that he struggles with the lack of Indigenous history at the Fintry site.
“It captures settler history of the Okanagan, I toured it and it is beautiful, but it doesn’t capture all of the history when it comes to Indigenous reconciliation.”
Carson urged the others not to view the funding as parks funding but rather as support for a museum. “The place has a huge history and it absolutely needs to be maintained.”
RDCO CAO Brian Reardon pumped the brakes on that notion.
“We don’t have a service for a museum, we don’t have a regional museum service,” he said, explaining if the board wants to fund the society they do it with a one-year grant that is reviewed next year.
“We have a legal agreement, the province has said it will pick up all the operating costs [associated with Fintry park].”
A motion to restore the funding on a year-to-year basis was passed by the board with Wooldridge and Milsom opposed.