Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Council to review Community Enhancement Grants process in January

Council members explored a number of
issues related to the Community
Enhancement Grant Process for 2016

The financial times appear to still be rather tight for Prince Rupert City Council and with that in mind, next month they will be reviewing the level of Community Enhancement Grants for local groups and organizations.

The decision to push back the awarding of the Grants came after a fairly vigorous discussion on the topic among City Council Members on Monday evening.

The tone for the conversation began with a report from the City's Financial Officer, with Corinne Bomben outlining the status of the city's operating funds, noting that they remained much the same as  through 2015, noting some of the stresses on the financial picture from general inflation and negotiated wage increases through the year.

As she noted in her report on Capital Budgets and Projects from earlier in the evening, at this point there is the prospect of the need for a 2 percent increase to the mill rate on property taxes next spring to address some of the city's requirements.

She then turned her attention to the Community Enhancement Grant process recommending a way to avoid the need for that 2 percent increase to the mill rate.

As part of her presentation, Ms. Bomben suggested to Council that for 2016 No New Grants be provided. As well when it comes to the existing grant holders from this year, the recommendation from the CFO was that those grants be capped at 850,000 dollars a significant reduction from the requested amount of just over one million dollars.

That could be a solution to the issue which will not doubt be disappointing news for the groups that had hoped to be added to the list in the new year's funding rolls.
The City's CFO Corinne Bomben
provided Council with a financial update
related to their Community Enhancement
Grant process

Following Ms. Bomben's presentation, Councillor Mirau offered up a revised motion, which included a request for staff to deliver to  a report to Council in January.

That report would outline that no new grants be made for 2016, while the baseline disbursement for 2016 would be parallel to those of 2015 for existing grant holders, while adding four criteria for consideration as to how the grants will be provided.

That criteria would include: Frequency of use by community members, diversity of services provided, overall value to community as a whole and consideration of the lowest possible impact on public service levels.

Councillor Mirau noted that the City needs to set clear and concise policy when it comes to grant allocations, allowing Council the ability to develop priorities.

Councillor Cunningham had concerns over the concept of a cap on any kind of funding, noting how some facilities have been underfunded and continue to struggle and how the City has to decide who gets what kind of funding.

Councillor Niesh also offered his support for the motion from Councillor Mirau and agreed with the concept of the cap for this year, noting how the City finances dictate what they can allocate. While Councillor Kinney agreed with the motion, but urged for caution and how the City needs to be careful when it comes to some of the groups who are in the most need.

Councillor Thorkelson provided the sharpest rebuke of the motion,  making clear her opposition to the concept, recalling how past decisions by council may have provided ramifications on revenue streams that are required and are now having an impact on their community partners.

She noted how Council is having a rough time delivering this budget at this time, she also took issue with the criteria aspect of Councillor Mirau's motion, suggesting that it is Council's job to determine what approach should be taken on the issue, not that of City staff.

She called it disgraceful that the City is talking about cutting funding to the key Grant recipients because of decisions made in the past, asking Council how these organizations will continue to provide those services.

Instead of reducing the grants, Councillor Thorlelson recommended that the City should take the grant figures from last year and accept the idea of a 2 percent increase to provide the required funding for those organizations that need an increase to cover their budgets.

Councillor Randhawa noted the importance of the Grant recipients to the community, but also called attention to the burden it could place on the taxpayers, offering his support to Councillor Mirau's motion.

Council voted to carry the revised motion from Councillor Mirau to review the process in January following the receipt of further information from staff, with only Councillor Thorkelson offering her strong opposition to that motion.

Staff will deliver their report to Council in January, at which time Council members will revisit the grant process and decide on which applicants will receive grant money and how much will be allocated towards each application.

You can review the full back and forth on the issue from the City Council Video archive, starting at the one hour three minute point.

For more items related to City Council Discussions see our Council Archive page here.

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