January 13, 2016

Community grant requests invited

As published in The Erin Advocate

As usual, the provision of grant money from the Town of Erin to community groups will get some intense scrutiny. This is quite proper, since it is public money, but the amount is very small compared to the Town’s overall spending.

The current plan is to give out $32,950, the same as last year, with the final amount and allocations to be set during upcoming budget debates.

A report last October from Finance Director Sharon Marshall, based on the work of a Grant Committee, recommended that almost half the money ($16,000) go to East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) to support the Seniors Program at Centre 2000.

Other local groups seeking funding for 2016 from the remaining $16,950 must apply by January 31. That amount represents about one tenth of one per cent (0.128%) of Town spending, budgeted in 2015 at $13.2 million.

It is only natural that people focus attention on smaller amounts. Most councillors and residents do not have the expertise to critique expenditures of hundreds of thousands of dollars on fire department equipment or bridge construction projects.

I don’t know when the law changed, but it was normal until the mid-1900s for major spending bylaws to be put to a public vote in Ontario municipalities. I wonder how that would work today? Unfortunately, we are down to a state where public input has become symbolic at best. Most people have no expectation of influencing public affairs.

But getting back to local grants, Council has adopted a policy that clarifies how applications are considered. A Grant Committee is appointed each year, made up of the Mayor, CAO, Economic Development Officer, Treasurer and one other Councillor. They review the applications and make recommendations to the full Council.

The maximum grant (except for EWCS) is $3,000. Each application should support the priorities of Council, and will be evaluated by the following criteria:

• Benefits the majority of Town residents

• Facilitates self-sufficiency and/or sustainability of the community organization

• Promotes volunteerism, participation and leadership development

• Promotes affordable, accessible, inclusive and diverse programs or services

• Fosters a healthy, safe and active community

• Provides new or complimentary programs or services

• Supports efficient and effective use of municipal resources and facilities.

The policy prohibits community grants to faith organizations, political groups, hospitals and other medical services, schools and government agencies.

A link to the policy and the application form is available on the home page of the Town website, erin.ca. Applicants will need to provide information on their plan, volunteer involvement, the organization’s goals, other funding sources, previous Town grants and current executive.

Applications for grants will be accepted from any individual, group, or organization operating on a not-for-profit basis, having a formal organizational structure, and providing local services, products, programs or initiatives.

Grants can be used for core operating funding, one-off events, special programming or small capital purchases.

The Town already provides some benefit to local groups by charging reduced fees for use of Town facilities. Council is planning to review its policy on waiving fees, but fees will not be waived as part of the community grants process.