Sponsor policy in the works

Local governments in the Cowichan Valley have not shied away from private or corporate sponsorships to help pay for infrastructure and programs, but there is no written policy to direct officials when making sponsorship decisions – yet.

The most prominent example of corporate sponsorship is the Island Savings Centre, renamed after the bank when they donated $1 million, delivered in $100,000 per year increments that go towards programs and services.

Discussion has taken place recently at the Island Savings Centre Commission, said chair Sharon Jackson, about public-private partnerships, including sponsorships.

Opinion on their desirability tends to be divided along party lines, she said.

"The people that generally vote Conservative think it’s fabulous and the people that don’t vote Conservative are extraordinarily cautious," Jackson said.

However, some who may not be willing to consider a wholesale public-private partnership to do something such as replace the community centre, may be willing to look at the idea of sponsorships.

"Sponsorship is interesting," Jackson said.

Not having a policy in place to decide what types of sponsorships may be desirable is a problem, though, she said.

"What happens if the neo-Nazi party wants to sponsor the Island Savings Centre? Or a drug company wants to sponsor Island Savings Centre? What kind of sponsors do we actually want to partner with?" she questioned.

There also needs to be some discussion of what is up for sponsorship, as some people find the idea of corporations putting their names on some public assets to be unpalatable.

"There was huge pushback when the centre was re-named Island Savings Centre," Jackson said. "It was okay when the lobby, for instance, was the Telus Mobility lobby or something like that but renaming the whole centre – there were a lot of people who were very angry about that.

"So when they bring that policy forward we’re going to have to have that discussion because there were people that resented that very much because it was a community centre, built and paid for by the community, and it was sort of seen as a takeover. And yet other people thought ‘this is great, it’s a million dollars’."

The sponsorship is bringing in a tangible benefit, she pointed out.

"Island Savings Credit Union gives $100,000 a year. So that $100,000 can go into building improvements or into programming that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. So it is saving taxes," she said.

Other areas of sponsorship have been going strong in Cowichan communities for years.

Things such as citizens and companies paying for park benches or theatre seating, and being rewarded with a plaque with their name on it for their donation, has been a popular way to add to public areas.