Gabriola’s bus service, fire department receive COVID-19 financial support from RDN

·3 min read

In addition to covering hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased costs experienced by the Regional District of Nanaimo during the COVID-19 pandemic, the regional district will disburse some its $1.169 million provincial Safe Restart grant to third-party service providers in the area, including two on Gabriola Island.

GERTIE, Gabriola’s non-profit public transit service, will receive $27,235 to cover lost revenue and personal protective equipment (PPE) costs incurred in 2020. The nearly $27,000 in lost revenue resulted from factors including a drop in ridership and charter hires. While the RDN received separate recovery funds from BC Transit, GERTIE, an independent service, is not eligible for them.

Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department, along with four other independent fire districts, will receive funds to cover PPE-related costs in 2020 and 2021. Gabriola Fire Chief Will Sprogis is appreciative of the $3,973 they will receive.

“Our budget is a bit flexible and it’s designed to have a contingency, so it would have worked OK, but there’s always unknowns. It’s not a huge budget item, but it’s definitely nice to get the money back for the PPE.”

Three search and rescue organizations in the region will also receive funds for PPE. Nanaimo Search & Rescue and Lighthouse Country Marine Search & Rescue submitted support for lost revenue as a result of a decrease in donations; however, the board ultimately decided not to cover it.

“We have a community bus service [GERTIE] that runs on a shoestring budget,” Vanessa Craig, RDN director for Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy), said during board deliberations. “The lost revenue due to COVID – they followed the RDN protocols, they stopped taking fares for people, they had extra costs for PPE for the drivers, and they also reduced the number of passengers.

“I think that’s different than Nanaimo Search & Rescue saying they would normally receive $15,000 in revenues from the community.”

Director Bob Rogers of Area E (Nanoose) justified his support for covering GERTIE’s lost revenue versus the search and rescue organizations saying, as a transportation service, it is “more in line with RDN services and relative to funds received from BC Transit.”

A total of $72,270 will go to third parties. The remaining will be incorporated into the RDN’s 2021 financial plan to cover costs related to PPE, information technology and security, facility upgrades as well as lost revenue related to recreation.

Area B pays into the Southern Community Recreation service, an agreement between the RDN and the City of Nanaimo to cover operational and maintenance costs for some city-owned sports fields and recreation facilities as well as the RDN-owned Rollo McClay. RDN staff have reached out to the city to determine what losses or costs the overall service has experienced, but the impact is unknown.

The province calculated the grant total given to each jurisdiction by regional population distribution with varying per capita amounts provided for rural and municipal areas.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder