Council puts a plug in funding tap for community organizations

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
April 12th, 2013

After over six years of different policies and three different councils, Grand Forks has once again decided not to provide grants-in-aid to local community organizations.

The topic came to the table after council had several requests for funding from local non-profits. Most were deferred to budget discussions or to wait in limbo for a decision by council on how to distribute grants to the community.

“I think we really missed the boat in not supporting the peewee tournament that came up and I found it really difficult to meet these people in public and to say we hadn’t done anything really formal for that although it was a big economic driver,” said mayor Brian Taylor to kick off the discussion at the committee of the whole on Monday, Apr. 2. “I’m looking at the grant-in-aid policy as having failed us because that’s basically what council (used to) decide.”

Taylor said the current policy is convoluted and couldn’t allow for an easy response from council when requests came forward.

“My problem is that the grant-in-aid policy is basically like a lottery where we take taxpayers dollars and make basically arbitrary decisions on who to give that money to,” councillor Gary Smith commented. “We criticize the provincial government (for their processes) so we’d be hypocrites to do the same. We definitely need a better policy.”

Originally the funds used for the grants were from the profits from electrical utility profits, clarified councillor Cher Wyers, not taxpayers money.

“We looked at it as giving the money back to the taxpayer,” added Wyers. “I’d like to see us have a grant-in-aid policy. We’re a small community and if that’s a way to re-direct funds back into the community… I recommend it.”

But councillor Bob Kendel said the real issue is the way to make a decision on who to give the funding to, how council can prioritize or choose between applicants. Councillor Michael Wirischagin agrees that the choices are difficult.

For example, the peewee tournament was only one of many events that bring economic benefit to the community and council can’t support them all. His suggestion was to fund umbrella groups like the Boundary District Arts Council that supports all the arts rather than picking and choosing individual groups.

But the main question comes back to having a policy at all, added councillor Neil Krog.

All the work of local groups is valuable for the community but it seems those who approach council don’t understand there is no difference between taxpayers and council and the real question is should the taxpayers fund these requests, Krog concluded.

“If the city was to give away, say $10,000, that equates to… a tax increase. I’ve always believed that we should not tax people so that I can give the money to groups that, as a council, we think are valuable. We should leave people their money not take it from them so that they can support the groups that they believe in,” Krog added.

Krog highlighted that council donates in many ways to support local organizations through facilities, use of infrastructure at no cost, in-kind labour from city crews and a variety of other ways without a specific grant.

Krog also said that a previous council decided that the best way they could support organizations was to assist in the creation of the Phoenix Foundation in 1997. He agreed that supporting umbrella organizations with service agreements was a better approach to community.

Debate continued with some input from members in the gallery, including Michelle Garrison, president of the Boundary District Arts Council.

“I would like to suggest that instead of a blanket sentiment ‘we shouldn’t offer grants in aid’ maybe more analysis of the requirements of grants-in-aid,” said Garrison. “I’m just suggesting that these are services that routinely need support and (perhaps you need to) look at the stringency of requirements.”

Operationalizing some of the regular funding and in-kind contributions to events like Canada Day and the fly-in also needs to be considered in any decisions, commented chief administrative officer Doug Allin. Staff needs to be clear on how to incorporate these expenses if they are not contained in a granting process, Allin added.

At the evening’s regular council meeting there was agreement to rescind the existing grant-in-aid policy. They went on to direct staff to bring forward alternate options for a policy to operationalize in-kind support for events and community organizations.

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