Thursday, October 27, 2016

Councillor Cunningham raises questions on City's Community Enhancement Grant issues

Councillor Barry Cunningham had a
number of questions related to
Enhancement Grant Funding on Monday
A door was opened a little bit on Monday into some of the inner workings of council members outside of the public meetings of every second Monday, as Councillor Barry Cunningham raised a number of questions related to the Community Enhancement Grant process currently underway.

Speaking towards the end of Monday night's session Mr. Cunningham's observations involved a review of the issue of contracts for the Lester Centre, Museum and Library.  A process that he noted started in January of this year when Council gave direction to staff to approach the three organizations to engage in contracts to reduce the need for them to approach council for enhancement grants.

Adding that as he understands it, that while the contracts are in negotiation that they have not been completed ten months later and the three groups have been advised to apply for enhancement grant funding.

Making for a situation which Mr. Cunningham has some concerns about.

"If this is true, I think it's putting a big burden on these organizations that are just about driven by volunteers and it's taking time away from those volunteers to do their jobs for the institution, if they have to apply for enhancement grants and are told at the last minute that we're changing in mid stream for that. So, I would like to know if that's true and if so if there is not another alternative to them applying for enhancement grants at the last minute or giving them a definite extension"

Mayor Brain outlined the challenges being faced by City Staff to address the contract issue, suggesting that he doesn't completely agree with the argument that staff hasn't done anything for ten months.

The Mayor did however offer up some thoughts on the status of those talks and the nature of the shift to the process that the City is looking to achieve.

Mayor Brain outlining the new approach
to some Enhancement Grant Funding
"That is currently in discussion as you know, I think what the issue ultimately is, is that we're trying to set up a permanent arrangement and we're changing a process that was already in motion for many years under enhancement grants and we know that these people need operating grants. So there's a whole variety of questions there and we need to move from one train to another. And if we do it, we're going to do it right, make sure that the contract works for them and works for us and provides for long term certainty, which is what is in the motion now."

The Mayor also acknowledged that there is a possibility that the City won't get the process signed off in time and as a back up plan it was encouraged that the three groups make application for the enhancement grants, that way if the two sides don't capture the timeline of the contracts then they would still be able to go into funding until the contracts can be signed off on.

Councillor Cunningham followed up on those observations with a question for staff if those groups had been offered an extension to the deadline for the grants, the Mayor interjected at that point that he believed the applications for enhancement grants had already been submitted, something which was not known by staff on the evening, though the City's CFO noted she could find out the status of those applications.

City Manager Robert Long, who doesn't comment frequently at Council sessions, did step in for a few moments to provide some further background to the issue.

"We had started this program, this process following the resolution some time ago, but some of the parameters changed, there were requirements that Council wanted us to do in the last few meetings that have now put getting into the contracts and getting them complete much more difficult that it was before"

Councillor Cunningham further explored that theme, noting that he has only seen a finalization on figures to this point and that only came at the last meeting.

The Mayor interrupted that train of thought, explaining some of the challenges that have come up in trying to bring it all together.

"There has been changes Councillor Cunningham over the process on scope and those things as well,  with the Library, there's the Library Act, we have to ensure that the contract falls within the Library Act and our duties to that, how many years we are going to go and those types of things. This is something that staff is working on and I'm not sure it's a massive issue at the moment, I haven't had any issues with the organizations about that. But this is the first year that it's going to be changed, and once it has been changed, it's going to be  a great  process moving forward for all these groups"

Councillor Cunningham noted that he wasn't saying that staff hasn't been doing anything, but that he would like to see this come to an end as fast as possible, because the groups are looking for their funding for next year and how the do things.

And Cunningham is right, the timeline related to Community Enhancement Grants is moving quickly, City Council normally addresses the Grant funding issue in December, announcing the grant funding amounts and naming the successful applicants shortly after the Christmas break in January.

The theme of change when it comes to how the Enhancement Grants process works has proven to be controversial in the past.

In December of 2015 the first dip of the toe into the water provided for some spirited discussion and a number of concerns on how the process would be delivered. As we get closer to the awarding of the Grants for the year ahead, it would seem that there are still as many questions as answers when it comes to what the City has planned.

The full discussion on the theme from Monday can be reviewed from the City's Video archive starting at the 59 minute mark.

A look at last years Enhancement Grant levels and some of the discussion related to them can be reviewed here.

An extended look at the topic from Monday night can be found on our City Council Timeline here.

For more items related to Prince Rupert City Council see our Discussion Archive page here.

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