County considering changes to municipal grants process

(Gazette file photo)

The municipality is considering changes to its annual grants process.

Committee of the whole supported a motion last week that would see, among other changes, a dollar figure set for grants during budget deliberations with the awarding of those grants to take place in the new year.

If approved by council, the grants process would be altered so that council would set a fixed amount of funding annually during budget discussions that would be allocated toward both streams of the community grants program (grants over and under $5,000), based on a percentage of the municipality’s overall tax assessment.

Those set amounts would be tied to the County’s annual real assessment growth so that grant allocations would increase over time as the community grows. Applications for grants over $5,000 would be considered by council in January following approval of the budget.

Chief administrative officer James Hepburn said the changes are staff’s attempt to streamline the budget process.

“What we’d like to see happen is that there be a fixed amount set during budget and then we would deal with the applications afterwards using that amount,” he said. “Quite frankly, it seems to us that sometimes we get a little bit sidetracked by the grants process; this would allow us to set an amount and move on with the rest of the budgeting items.”

He said the exact dollar figure to be included in the budget will be council’s decision, but staff would like a better idea of what the allocation might be from one year to another.

“We’re trying to fix it to an amount with some adjustment based on assessment so we can predict what it’s going to be from year to year,” said Hepburn.

A staff report presented to councillors at last week’s meeting says council spends considerable time during the budget process receiving deputations and discussing requests, and that forces councillors to consider the merits of those requests while also considering operating and capital budgets.

The report says that has historically led to some uncertainty for staff as they prepare the budget. In the past the process has lacked an annual maximum allotment which may prompt applicants “to be less judicious with their requests.” While several attempts have been made to curtail grants spending, the grants allocation has continued to grow without a real connection to total budget spending, community growth, or an assessment of need, the report says.

In 2017, the total allocation for community grants was approximately $503,505 including both monetary and in-kind.

Hepburn said the municipality has plenty of grants pressure.

“It’s a difficult subject, there are certainly lots of deserving people out there who want the municipality to fund their initiatives,” he said.

In 2015 the County entered into a three-year partnership with The County Foundation to administer grants under $5,000. The report says no changes are proposed to that process for the balance of the agreement, but the annual allocation for monetary and in-kind grants would be based on the same formula for grants over $5,000.

Both the annual per capita allocation to recreation committees and pre-existing multi-year funding commitments would be exempt from the policy change.

Councillor Janice Maynard said she liked the idea of setting an amount during budget and discussing the applications in the new year.

“Generally we’ll spend a day and sometimes more discussing grants,” she said, adding that those discussions are often emotional.

She said the grants allocation has increased dramatically since 2010.

Councillor Lenny Epstein said he also liked the proposed approach.

“It makes it a lot more clear right from the get-go,” he said.

Community development director Neil Carbone said staff would screen all grant applications for completeness and it would be up to council to decide which applications to approve for funding.