Memorial bench policy changes debated

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After some families that bought into Banff’s memorial bench program were surprised to learn the policy included an expiry date for their tribute, council has voted to maintain the updated policy with 10- and 20-year terms.

But at least one town councillor wanted to give those who have subscribed to the program since 2000 an opportunity to keep their memorial benches in the community in perpetuity.

Councillor Brian Standish put forward a motion to provide a perpetual extension for memorial benches to all families that subscribed to the program from 2000 to 2016.

The debate on the motion by Standish saw the majority of council in favour of fixed terms for the program, given that the infrastructure does eventually require replacement.

Standish said he has heard feedback that characterized the policy change as a money grab by the municipality, “carried on the backs of widows and orphans.

“Comments like that piss me off, because it was never the intent of the original policy,” he said.

Council updated the policy in May 2016, to set out 10- and 20-year terms for memorial benches at a cost of $4,000 to $8,000. The prior policy set out a cost of $2,000 for 15 years or $1,000 for 10 years. However, some felt the rate covered the cost of maintenance for the time frame, but the benches would continue to be kept in place if they were in good condition.

The updated policy set out timeframes that matched the lifecycle of a bench better, with better language around term limits, as well as fees that were more in line with the actual cost of maintenance.

From 2000 until 2016 there were 65 subscribers to the program, with many prominent and well-known Banff families represented.

Standish said some people thought the program offered them a perpetual memorial for their loved one, much like a tombstone or epitaph, and the confusion over time limits has resulted in many feeling council lacks respect for community values and places a higher priority on revenue sources.

“When I voted to approve the policy in 2016, I was looking forward to ensuring the program was self-sustaining,” Standish said. “What I failed to do was look back to understand the effect on the 65 families that supported the program in good faith.”

Mayor Karen Sorensen said the language in the original policy was clear, that benches had a fixed length of time in the community.

“What was important to me was to be clear the original policy established a limited term,” Sorensen said. “The majority of the people who received this information (about term limits) were not apparently upset about the change.”

Coun. Grant Canning was the only member of council to support Standish’s motion.

Council voted to continue to administer the program as per the 2016 updated policy, although it enabled administration to provide a two year extension to the program for those who subscribed to it between 2004-16.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook