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Community grant finalizations stay with town council

Posted on March 27, 2019 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

While town councillor Joe Strojwas would like to see final decision-making authority for community grants delegated to the Taber Recreation Board, the majority were less enthusiastic about transferring power to the appointed body.

“The rec board was just wondering — right now we have a policy that past the deadline, it goes straight to council,” said rec board chair Danielle Hansen at council’s March 11 meeting. “What happens if there’s still funds available? Does it come to the rec board? Or is it once the funds are all used up, then does it go to council? That was my only concern and question.”

In 2018, the Taber Recreation Board had received several requests for money through the Community Grants Program, with the board passing a motion for town council to deal with these requests. In response to this, council changed the policy making money requests no longer eligible under the Community Grants Program.

“From what I understand, after October — that’s the deadline for our grants and after this point no further applications are considered. That’s how we’re interpreting the policy,” said recreation director Dawn Phillips. “So that’s what the question is: if there’s still funds available, such as the applications that came in late to the last council meeting (Feb. 25), could those be considered by the rec board? To change the policy to that effect.”

After discussion at their Feb. 7 meeting, the rec board passed another motion requesting council further amend the policy to give the board final granting authority rather than have ineligible requests automatically go to council. The motion was moved by Coun. Louie Tams, one of two council representatives on the board.

“In my interpretation, the rec board has asked to be the final authority on matters of distribution of community grant applications,” said CAO Cory Armfelt. “It’s awfully challenging to prevent somebody from coming to council to make a request for funding at any point in time. If you’re asking me for advice, council should be cautioned against creating a policy that states there will be no more support provided to anybody looking for recreational support — whether there’s money left, or there isn’t money left — it’s not, I would say, under the democratic process, and the transparent process that I think this council tries to undertake, to say that somebody can’t approach council to ask for funding if they missed an arbitrary deadline set in October. At any point in time council can make a decision to support somebody looking for some rec board funding.”

“That’s not to say that we couldn’t change the policy to send it back to the rec board for the rec board’s consideration, but that would be something that would have to go through policy change to allow for that, or council could take it on and make the decision themselves whether there was money left or not,” continued Armfelt.

Under the current policy, any project, event or activity that is not eligible under the Community Grants Program will be submitted directly to council for consideration at their next regular meeting. Town council annually allocates $25,000 to the Community Grants Program.

“I’m just wondering if there’s something we can do that allows a lot more flexibility,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop.

While accommodations could be made, cautioned Armfelt, changes could result in the elimination of any sense of urgency for organizations to meet application deadlines.

“It’s tough for me to make a decision that ultimately is the rec board’s (decision). It’s the flavour of the rec board ultimately whether they want to make a decision at the end of a year, for the next year, and say we’re not opening this book again, but if we’re making decisions for 2019 at the end of 2018, we recommend who we think is deserving of support, we make that decision, and then the rec board is actually pulled out of that decision-making process, and anyone that’s past that October deadline has to come to council for support. Alternatively, if it’s the rec board’s desire, or council’s desire, to further engage them in making a recommendation, then we write that up in a policy and have it that if you’re late, you’re going back to the rec board. However, then there’s no real onus on the applicant to make sure they get their application in by October. And that is the point, to try to set a deadline so that we do these things in a specific process.”

Prokop wasn’t entirely convinced.

“So do we make it completely rec board-oriented only, or do we allow that little bit of flexibility? That’s what I’m getting at.”

Suggesting that any citizen, at any time, might not have the right to approach council with their concerns or requests is a precedent to be avoided, argued Armfelt.

“I almost think that’s impossible to say that we’re going to slam the door at the end of October and deny any more rec board support, or any support for anyone that’s doing something that’s a one-off, because everybody always has the chance to come to council and make their claim.”

Coun. Garth Bekkering argued for a strict adherence to existing deadlines for the grant program.

“I do know one thing. We set dates all the time — in this particular case October — and the $25,000 allocated by council to the rec board to use, it just so happened that this year there was a few thousand dollars left over, and at the last meeting council decided to give grants to two groups. This works out well. I don’t see the need to necessarily amend this Community Grants Program. I think it’s worked quite well so far, and as Mr. Armfelt just said, it’s still up to council to decide to grant waivers or grant some money to groups. The democratic process is what it is, this is where the buck stops, and I think we should leave it as it is.”

Contending that council should wash their hands of the entire process and delegate financial authority to the rec board, Coun. Joe Strojwas attempted to convince his colleagues.

“We allocate $25,000 to the rec board for this process. I think it should be up to them to utilize that money, and if a secondary request comes in it should go to them for approval, rather than in fact to us. That’s what we have it there for; we have it there for them as a grant program, and if money is not all used up and somebody comes forward it should go through the Recreation Department, it should go through that program. It shouldn’t come to council here. This is why we set it up this way, so that these tasks will be dealt with by the recreation board.”

Bekkering viewed the issue in terms of deadlines rather than decision-making authority.

“I don’t agree with Councillor Strojwas’ rationale regarding this request. I think it’s a simpler reason, like Mr. Armfelt just said, if we don’t give an incentive to groups to apply in advance before a set deadline, you might as well throw the deadline out.”

Tams appeared to agree, but was still seeking clarity for the rec board.

“At the rec board meeting, there was a discussion as to which way we go. If we have this, and there’s late ones, how do we deal with it? From the rec board’s perspective, we have the deadline in October, so if you haven’t come to us, the rec board is automatically going to say no, you need to go to council because you passed the deadline. The question, the concern at the time, was should the rec board be involved with these requests after the fact? I think there’s some merit to it. There’s also some merit to it if there’s a late request.”

Strojwas would make a final attempt to hand off the fiscal ball to the rec board in the area of community grants.

“We have a rec board that makes decisions, perhaps we need to give them a little more cash so that they have a little bit of a slush fund. In the six years I’ve been on council, it seems like we get a couple of requests every year for $600 here, $1,000 there, so why not leave that with the rec board? Let them make those decisions, give them a bit of a slush fund. Why should we as council deal with those requests when we have a rec board set up to look after that? It’s been going on for six years. Let’s empower them to look after it.”

Following discussion, council voted 6-1 to not consider any changes to Sec. 9 of the town’s Community Grants Program. Strojwas opposed the motion.

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