How the Strathcona Regional District communicates with residents could be changing, as it considers using its own website — rather than newspaper advertising — as the primary source of information.
The province recently allowed regional districts to look into different ways of communicating things like elections, public hearings, proposed projects and other business. Before the change, governments were required to use local newspapers (if possible) as their main way to inform the public. However, now, in an effort to save costs and streamline their processes, the regional district plans to do the majority of their communications in-house.
According to a staff report on the SRD’s May 11 board meeting agenda, “the cost of providing public notification through the default system (newspaper publication) is not insignificant and typically runs at about $400 to $800 per insertion (2021 rates), depending on the size of the notice. On an annual basis, costs typically run in the tens of thousands but can be much higher in an election year.”
The report also said that “in many cases, the deadlines for providing copy for newspaper publication are extremely tight and no deviation is permitted.”
Directors were in favour of the change because in the more remote communities, there was no newspaper delivery, preventing residents from seeing advertisements. However, others were concerned about people having access to the Internet in order to see the notices posted there.
According to Electoral Area D director Brenda Leigh, in her community there are “too many people that are not online… we need to advertise in newspapers.”
She also mentioned feedback she receives from residents at things like community meetings.
“The number one complaint that I hear is that the regional district did not let (people) know the meeting was going to happen,” Leigh said. “We are invisible.”
Previous legislation required notices to appear in two subsequent issues of a newspaper. The chosen news outlet also had to meet certain criteria to be considered.
According to chief administrative officer David Leitch, the plan is to continue to use print media for advertising, but to redirect people to the regional district’s website instead. That would allow the regional district to cut their advertising budget by approximately 50 per cent.
“The local newspaper would continue to be used for advising the public of upcoming events and decisions of the board but details would be scaled back in order to save costs,” says the staff report. “In essence, the newspaper notice would be used to steer the public to the regional district’s website to obtain full details related to the notice.”
Leitch also said that using the regional district’s website is a way to get media attention.
“Whenever we put anything on our website, we almost immediately get pinged by all the media asking for more information and clarification,” he said. “In fact, it’s a way to fan out to more people… we’re going to reach a lot more people and more news agencies.”
The topics subject to the change are elections, assent voting, board procedures, providing assistance, asset disposition, opinion referendums, alternative approval processes, annual financial reports, parcel tax rolls, property tax exemptions, land use regulations, and heritage conservation.
SRD staff will be preparing a bylaw to be voted on in a future meeting.
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