Councillors in Sechelt are still trying to get the balance right when it comes to community grants, and how the decisions should be made.
The District’s finance, culture and economic development committee went over the recommendations from a special grant review committee at its Jan. 13 meeting, before sending them on to the Jan. 20 regular council meeting.
Some 34 groups applied for 2016 grants, seven more than 2015. They were looking for around $230,000 between them, and the review committee recommended handing out $65,534 from general funds and $88,838 from traffic fine revenue.
Mayor Bruce Milne said he’s not ready to simply rubber-stamp the review committee’s decisions.
“I’d like to get to where we can simply accept the grant recommendations from the committee, but I’m not there yet,” he said. “I’m concerned about these issues about the long-standing grants that we’re trying to put onto memorandums of understanding.”
Milne added that, based on discussions last year, he was expecting drafts of those MOUs to come forward in time for the 2016 grants.
“If we have these discussions, we have a report from the CFO, we have minutes that say we’re going to do these things, I simply don’t know where to go when a year later I look at it and I say ‘oh, these things are all helter-skelter again’,” he said. “These organizations can’t do any stable planning if the core funding that we try to give them isn’t available.”
Councillors who sat on the grant review committee, along with acting CFO Linda Klassen, said they looked for the relevant information but couldn’t find anything to confirm those council motions had been formalized as ongoing line items in the grant budget.
Klassen also told the committee a search turned up some draft MOUs, but they weren’t signed and couldn’t be followed for this year’s grants.
Questions were raised around grants for three arts and culture groups: Coast Cultural Alliance, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, and the Arts Council.
There were also issues around how best to deal with the $12,800 earmarked for Sunshine Coast Tourism and $10,000 for the cold weather homeless shelter operating out of St. Hilda’s Anglican Church.
The three arts groups are among those Milne is hoping to start dealing with under MOUs, and he said he was disappointed the review committee recommended reducing the grants for Coast Cultural Alliance and the Arts Council. “I’m wondering why I feel I have to go back over this ground again in terms of the importance of cultural programming and our commitment to cultural programming,” Milne said.
Urged on by Milne, the finance committee voted to bring the grants for those two groups up to the 2015 levels.
The issue with the money for Sunshine Coast Tourism wasn’t tied to the amount, but where it should come from. Milne said that funding would be better dealt with as a part of an economic development budget, and he suggested that is something Sechelt should look at for the arts groups as well.
“We’re watching the traditional economy of Canada collapse around us as it does every 25 to 30 years,” Milne said. “And one way we can isolate ourselves and have a more stable economy is to look at the new economy, which is culture, creativity and knowledge.”
The $10,000 grant for the homeless shelter was recommended before B.C. Housing stepped forward to increase its funding to the shelter.
Councillors wanted to find out whether the money is still needed, and how it will be used before signing off.
Coun. Darnelda Siegers sits on the Sunshine Coast Homelessness Advisory Committee.
“Is it still going to be used for what it was applied for, and how do we address it if it isn’t?” she said. “I’d love to give them the money, I know that they can use it, but we need to know that we have all our ducks in a row.”
Other notable grants include $12,500 for the Sunshine Coast Marine Rescue Society (RCM-SAR). The money will be used to buy safety equipment for the volunteer crews.