Thursday, February 22, 2024

Council Foolish to Reject Third Party Administration of Community Grant Fund

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Those who don’t attend Meaford council meetings missed quite a performance on October 26, when councillors tied themselves in knots trying to undo a proposal that just two weeks ago had the support – albeit narrow – of council.

The issue? Community Grants policy.

The problem? Some members of council were reluctant to turn over administration of the annual community grant program to a third party with a world of experience in administering grants.

Those councillors who were opposed to having an outside party administer the grant funding expressed concern about the cost – a whopping $2,500 – or they indicated that they weren’t comfortable with taking the decision-making task for grants away from members of council.

Councillors overwhelmingly supported the revised policy for the grant program, but four of the seven at the October 26 meeting didn’t want the administration process taken away from them.

I’m baffled.

The community grant program is an important one for local organizations, which host various events for the community and could use a few extra bucks to help their events succeed, but it is a huge pain in the you know where for council and staff to deal with each year.

In recent years, council, in spite of having a policy on the books, has chosen to ignore the rules and instead gave grants to organizations that didn’t qualify, and it handed short straws to organizations that did qualify.

The fact that council couldn’t follow the extremely basic rules was the very reason for the overhaul of the program to begin with, yet council doesn’t want to trust an outside organization whose sole function is administering grant funds to community groups, and they do it very well.

As for the cost: for $2,500, not only would we avoid the countless hours that council has spent in the past debating who should receive how much (or shouldn’t as the case may be), but it would also eliminate a big chunk of staff time dealing with the application process, following up with incomplete applications, preparing the requests for council consideration, along with a host of other tasks that are required in order for the process to work.

Suddenly, the council, who just a few months ago ordered a staff review resulting in the termination of two senior staff members, is willing to have staff carry out all of these tasks at a cost that we all know will far exceed the $2,500 administration fee that would have been paid to the third party to administer the fund.

Council approved a very detailed policy: should it matter if it is administered by a third party, or by council and staff? If the policy is strong enough – which it seems to be – then council should be pleased to have this off its plate, and to know that staff aren’t spending valuable tax dollars dealing with the dozens of requests and application submissions.

Not to mention, most members of council are heavily involved in several community groups in their spare time, and those very groups are the ones that request grant funds.

Should the councillor who manages the Farmers’ Market be on the panel that decides if the Farmers’ Market can receive a grant? Should the councillor who has been heavily involved with the Chamber of Commerce be on the team that decides if Dragons’ Den or other Chamber initiative should receive funding? Should the member of council who is part of the local community theatre be part of the decision-making unit that approves a grant for the next production? Should the member of council heavily involved in the local legion be part of the decision-making should the legion request funding? Should the member of council with long ties to the Meaford Hall Foundation be helping to approve a grant should the Foundation ever make a request?

Turning the administration over to a third party for relatively little cost, and as a bonus elimintating any potential conflicts of interest, real or perceived, how is that not an outstanding deal?

Council’s sole job is to set policy.  Council’s role is not to manage.  Council’s role is not to execute policy, it is to set it, nothing else.

In the past council has approved service delivery policies that outline when grass in parks should be cut, but councillors don’t feel the need to go push the mowers themselves, so why is contracting out the administration of a grant fund any different?

So what’s the real reason for council’s reluctance to let go of the grunt work related to the community grants? I’d hate to think it was ego.

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