By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
During Cobourg council’s 2023 operating and capital budget review meeting Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty suggested the current program for issuing community grants be honoured.
The future of the program which helps support local organizations, though, is in doubt.
Beatty presented her suggested grants to the following recipients: Canadian Abilities Foundation – $1,000 for special event funding; Cobourg and District Historical Society – $2,000 for in-kind support; Cobourg Ecology Garden – $1,800 for operating funding; Cobourg Highland Games – $5,000 for special event funding and in-kind support; Cobourg Museum Foundation – $2,000 for operating funding; Horizons of Friendship – $1,000 for community project funding; La Jeunesse Choirs – $1,000 for in-kind support; Les Amis – $1,000 for in-kind support; Northumberland Oral Health Coalition – $400 for community project funding; Northumberland Orchestra & Choir Society – $1,000 for community project funding; Ontario Community Emergency Assistance Program – $1,000 for operating funding; Saint Vincent de Paul – $1,000 for operating funding; Sounds of the Next Generation – $1,000 for in-kind support; St. Peter’s Church – $5,000 for community project funding; Victoria Hall Volunteers – $4,000 for in-kind support; Victorian Operetta Society – $1,000 for in-kind support.
“Trying to work within the current grant program with the allotted amount of $30,000, in the past we’ve always introduced individual motions for each ask,” Beatty said, noting council can discuss and amend the amounts.
“What I’ve tried to do is go through the budget year-over-year keeping in line, being consistent in the amounts that we’ve funded,” she said. “The document gives a little bit to everyone, which I know is not the cleanest and ideal way. The second part of the motion would be to direct staff to review the grant policy moving forward to 2024. I do believe that we need to honour the current policy…as folks are budgeting for this. A lot of staff time and community time was put into these applications.”
All groups were included except for two that Beatty declared a conflict for at the beginning of the meeting.
Councillor Adam Bureau later made an amendment to the motion to include those groups – the Cobourg Lawn Bowling Club and Toastmasters for $1,000 each.
Cleveland said he appreciated the part of the motion “where moving forward the idea of cash grants ceases and desists and we look for other ways to support our volunteers.”
Councillor Brian Darling said he supports the groups and wishes council could do more, “but I don’t think we were elected to give away taxpayers’ money. One of my proposals is that in the current environment we don’t give any cash grants.”
Darling used the Concert Hall in Victoria Hall as an example.
“When you look at the operating budget…the projected operating cost for the Concert Hall in 2023 is 409,000 dollars with revenue at 168(000), leaving a balance of 241(000) for the taxpayer to pick up. The taxpayer is already picking up 241,000 and then we’re going to give in-kind grants for the fees to be even less. To me it’s almost like double-dipping. You’re already getting a break and you’re asking for another break.
“To me, $30,000 as a lump sum can be put to a lot better use than a thousand here and a thousand there and whatnot. Not that I don’t support these groups, but I don’t think any of them are going to go out of business if we don’t give them a thousand dollars. It sounds harsh and it’s a lot easier to say yes than no, so I’m just putting this on the floor for council to think about.”
Councillor Miriam Mutton said caution is needed as volunteerism has value. She is comfortable trying to meet the $30,000 mark and sees arts and culture programs, for instance, as integral to the health and well-being of community.
Bureau commended Beatty for putting the list together. Having done it the past four years, he knows the challenges faced due to all the applications received from organizations seeking funding. He realizes the program could change moving forward.
“I do appreciate all the organizations coming up and presenting, filling out the applications, going through the process and I do think we have to honour this (system) this year,” Bureau said.
The mayor said “I 100 per cent support Councillor Darling on this one. I was along the same lines in terms of just cancelling this in its entirety. I knew that it was a political landmine to do so – how to potentially upset the most number of people in your community in one single motion would be to completely end the community grants program,” Cleveland said.
“I think Councillor Darling is sort of touching on a shift within this council from previous councils and I just want to acknowledge that shift. We are starting to think outside-the-box as a council. The fact that we’re even talking about the cancellation of community grants and how politically unpopular that may be is a good thing because I think everything needs to be discussed.”
The mayor again reiterated full support to Darling and the idea to cancel community grants, but also understands how tricky that might be politically.
“If we are to move forward with this proposal, my recommendation is that I can only support the 30,000 grant this year if the motion is attached to the cancellation of this program moving forward,” Cleveland said.
Councillor Aaron Burchat suggested a change, noting the Victoria Hall Volunteers requested $5,432. In this proposal, the group would only get $4,000.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re doing these events to essentially get money to put back into this building which is a town asset. If you look at their presentation and what they’ve pushed back into this building in itself, the return-on-investment for allowing them to use the facility to run these things, to generate those funds, I think is a very good return on what we’re putting out for that. I would have no issue giving them their full amount to make they’re providing the most programming to get the most back to restore things in this building.”
Cleveland said he wants to keep the total for grants within the $30,000 if they are to be approved this year.
Beatty asked if it was an appropriate time for council to digest the information and return to the discussion Thursday to consider the changes to her motion. Municipal clerk Brent Larmer said he was tracking changes that can be discussed later on.
There will be more discussion Thursday when Cobourg council finalizes its 2023 budget.