Friday, July 12, 2024

Community Grants – Rules are Rules, Why Can’t Council Follow Them?

By Stephen Vance, Editor

It has been painful to watch over the past few years when council reviews requests for community grants, and decides who and what to fund, and for how much.

What might seem a simple task is turned into a long, drawn-out, confusing affair caused primarily because this council, and the previous council, just can’t follow the policy developed to make the process much more simple.

Granted, in a small town, it can be a delicate dance when seven councillors allocate grant funds to various community groups, but it doesn’t have to be, because every criteria for approval or rejection of a funding request can be found on the application form that organizations submit each year for the grant opportunities.

At council this week, there were three requests for funding that members of council bent over backward trying to find a way to accommodate. A significant amount of time was taken during this week’s council meeting discussing where funding could come from given that the 2015 grant fund is all but depleted. If council had simply referred to the established criteria, the entire process could have been completed in five minutes.

Let’s start with the Meaford International Film Festival. I love films, and this event has grown significantly in its first eight years, and heading into their ninth festival, MIFF organizers were asking council for an additional $3,000 – $2,000 had already been approved by council – bringing their total request for 2015 to $5,000. It’s a great event, and the municipality has supported it since its inception, but how would the eligibility criteria deal with this request?

  • The Meaford Community Grants Program is intended to assist groups and organizations with initial start up funding for their unique initiatives and projects in year 1 to year 3. Funding through the Meaford Community Grants Program should not be considered an annual revenue source.

  • An organization may make only one (1) application per year.

So according to the eligibility criteria, the request should be denied – ultimately it was, however it was a long and winding road to arrive at that conclusion when it needn’t have been.

Now let’s look at the request from the Chamber of Commerce for their Dragons’ Den Meaford event coming up in the autumn.

The Dragons’ Den Meaford organizers requested that council approve an additional $3,000 grant on top of the $5,000 that council had already approved for the event in the 2015 budget. Dragons’ Den Meaford has been a very successful initiative that has given entrepreneurs a chance to win cash and prizes to help their business dreams. The event fills Meaford Hall, and created a lot of buzz in the municipality in its first six years of existence. In short it’s a great event, but should it be granted a total of $8,000 by council this year? Let’s check the eligibility criteria.

  • The Meaford Community Grants Program is intended to assist groups and organizations with initial start up funding for their unique initiatives and projects in year 1 to year 3. Funding through the Meaford Community Grants Program should not be considered an annual revenue source.

  • An organization may make only one (1) application per year.

As with the MIFF request, the Dragons’ Den request should also have been rejected by council based on the established criteria.

After much discussion and debate, council ultimately agreed to provide the Dragons’ Den Meaford organizers not the $3,000 as requested but $2,500, bringing the total grant funding provided by the municipality to $7,500 for this year.

Also requesting funding this week was the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Georgian Triangle. They were requesting $3,000 to help fund new initiatives in Meaford. Due to the growing need, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters have recently established a satellite office in Meaford by co-sharing office space with another local non-profit organization. As far as I was able to determine, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Georgian Triangle have never asked for grant funding from the municipality before.

After what seemed an eternity of circular discussion, council voted to give $500 to the Big Brothers Big Sisters, not the $3,000 they had requested, yet they seem to meet all of the eligibility requirements for community grant funding.

To our councillors I would say this: It’s okay to say no – even to the Hall Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce. It’s also completely justifiable to fall back on ‘the rules’ to defend any decisions you make. What isn’t justifiable is to ignore the rules, and that is what council has been doing in recent years.

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