Slide victims frozen out of fund

Oliver residents hit by mudslide unable to access $30,000 trust fund

Frustration for both the regional district and Oliver residents affected by the mudslide almost a year and a half ago continues.

“Absolutely,” agrees Dale Kronebusch, Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen emergency services supervisor who also sits on a committee that is overseeing funds raised in the community for mudslide victims that are in need.

As horrible a situation as residents were put in when the Testalinden dam breached and sent a torrent of mud down the hill destroying homes, livelihoods and equipment — for many the wait to be compensated has been worse. According to Kronebusch, there is about $30,000 sitting in a trust fund that was determined by the committee overseeing it to be used for “unmet needs.”

The frustration is hitting a boiling point because that money has only been used sparingly — some funds doled out for food vouchers when the slide initially happened June 13, 2010. Since then it has been frozen, waiting for the government to settle with the victims.

“It is a catch-22, that is the whole problem,” said Kronebusch. “The money can’t go out until it is determined what the unmet needs are and we don’t know what those are yet until the government offers up.”

The trust fund committee consists of various service groups, a member from victim services, the agricultural sector and Kronebusch. They are legally bound by the decision they made to use the funds only for unmet needs. Kelly Wheeler, a resident of Oliver, said when she and others donated money they expected it to be used immediately by those who were affected by the mudslide.

“When the trust fund was set up it was declared for unmet needs. Those folks that donated to it from some of the fundraisers had to consciously make that decision that is what they were doing, putting it into an unmet needs committee,” said Kronebusch.

The slide victims trust fund, according to Kronebusch, could potentially turn out to be an “accounting nightmare.” If they are forced to go in the direction that all the needs are met, the committee will have to give the money back where it came from. Tax receipts for all the donations compile a list of those who gave money, and those people would have to declare it back as income and not as a deduction on their next tax return.

“It’s a real sticky one and it is just as frustrating on this end. People have been inquiring like crazy about funding but, unfortunately, the answers are all the same. Until we know what the unmet needs are we can’t touch the money. We can’t do anything with it, it’s frustrating,” said Kronebusch. “It is not our intent that we wait until the end of two years, which is what it is coming to.”

RDOS rural Oliver director Alan Patton said he has no power over what happens with the money for the slide victims.

“I know a lot of those affected would rather get the money they deserve from the compensation,” said Patton.

“Obviously it is important for the community to show support for those who have been hurt financially and psychologically from that disaster. It was important they had some cash right away to get around some humps of what do I eat and where do I stay, and they were supplied with that money so that was excellent. But now it has become something we have to deal with and we have to do it equitably, fairly and according to the criteria.”