Area director drains $90,000 grant for lacklustre facilities

Area director drains $90,000 grant for lacklustre facilities.

Issues surrounding $90,000 in

provincial and RDOS grant money

used in Hedley to build a washroom

and storage facility in 2010,

prompted the Regional District to

make changes to its grants policy

in 2015.

The problems with the washrooms

date back to 2007 when

the Hedley Community Club,

under Elef Christensen applied and

received funding for a multi-purpose

recreational facility.

The facility was to be located

next to the community’s outdoor

rink and would be wheelchair

accessible and include concessions,

change rooms, washrooms and

showers. Instead the community

received a small block washroom

and a separate storage facility.

The project received a $45,000

provincial LocalMotion grant that

was matched by the Regional

District Okanagan-Similkameen

out of its gas tax funding.

When Christensen and the

Hedley Community Club received

the funding, Christensen was not an

Area director. But, he was elected

as Area G director in fall 2008.

The construction of the buildings

were completed in 2010 while

he was director.

Christensen lost his bid for reelection

in 2011. He was re-elected

in 2014 as Area G director.

Paperwork the Review has

obtained shows that Christensen

under his gold mining equipment

shop, Misty Mountain Gift Shop

billed the project more than $2,000

for his own services.

The Penticton Herald filed a

Freedom of Information request

regarding the project and reported

this week that Christensen was paid

$1,900 for managing the project

and $755 for his own labour.

Documents also showed that

three toilets had been billed to

the project but that only one was

installed.

The Review attempted to reach

Christensen before deadline we

were told he was out of town at the

dentist.

Christensen has admitted he

took a fee for the project in the past.

While under fire from questioning

taxpayers, Christensen did

admit to personally receiving funds

from the project at an all-candidates

meeting in October 2014 shortly

before the last municipal election.

He provided no other details.

“It was a longtime ago and I

don’t remember,” he said to the

audience that night while being

grilled about the project.

Bill Newell, CAO for the

RDOS said the project was never

the responsibility of the RDOS

although the Regional District

wrote the cheques.

“Our role was to simply pay

out on the invoices we received,”

he said.

Newell said the project was

under review in 2014 but that the

file has since been closed.

“We checked the invoices to

make sure we had an invoice for

each payment and we did,” he said.

Newell said the RDOS gives

out a variety of grants throughout

the year to groups and the RDOS

provides oversight to none.

“Really it’s the responsibility of

the agency to use the funds effectively,”

he said.

Mark Pendergraft, chair of

the Regional District Okanagan-

Similkameen said it is not common

for area directors or volunteers to

charge a consulting fee on projects.

“My personal view is that I

would not want to put myself in

that position where you are charging

a consultant fee when you are

an area director,” he said during a

phone interview Tuesday morning.

“I have to say it is not a common

process by any means. Not that I’m

aware of locally.”

Pendergraft said he didn’t think

Christensen meant to do anything

“untoward,” to taxpayers but rather

didn’t consider the optics of charging

them for his services on the

project.

“I don’t believe it was done with

any sort of intent to rip someone

off. If anything it would just be

done not thinking things through.

You would really have to speak to

him about his motives,” he said.

Pendergraft said he didn’t think

the project would have any longterm

ramifications for the Hedley

Community Club requesting funds

in the future but that it did influence

changes made to the RDOS

grant policy.

“Well, I think it kind of put

the icing on the cake. (We were)

always wondering on how to deal

with issues of money with groups…

There’s been concerns in the past

and (the Hedley project) did not

help the situation,” he said.

The new policy means gas tax

money is for the most part to be

used on RDOS owned and operated

facilities to ensure projects are

completed as proposed and money

is being used properly.

The provincial LocalMotion

project handed out in 2007 came

under scrutiny by then Auditor-

General John Doyle because there

were no records to review to ensure

projects met criteria and were executed

as proposed.

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