Has To Be a Better Way, Cobourg Council Says of Community Grants

In City Hall, Local

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Dealing with the many requests from worthy community organizations for cash or in-kind donations is one part of the annual Cobourg budget process councillors do not look forward to.

A new idea was put into effect for 2024 of drafting memoranda of understanding with organizations that frequently approached the town for help during the budget discussions, an idea meant to provide some security and predictability to the organizations, as well as to avoid extended council discussion by making an annual request a simple line item.

It didn’t work out that way, council agreed on Tuesday at the April meeting of council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee – as many agreed after 90 minutes of discussion and encore appearances by six applicants making their case for donations.

“Ten years on council and I have trouble with this every year,” Councillor Brian Darling declared.

Darling has counted more than 100 not-for-profit organizations in Cobourg, and council was debating 21 of them asking for $81,000 in support – whether cash or in-kind – when they have budgeted some $30,000 to give. Meanwhile, he estimates the paid time of staffers and councillors in debating and determining the issue probably exceeds the $30,000 threshold.

There’s got to be a better way, he said.

“I’m not saying we don’t support them, but are we using our time and dollars efficiently?”

Committee Chair Nicole Beatty said she’d heard of municipalities that transferred the application and decision-making process to their local United Way or a community foundation. She put a motion on the floor to receive the staff report to approve $33,025 in cash and in-kind grants, to authorize staff to draft memoranda of understanding with long-term grant recipients (effective Jan. 1, 2025), and to ask staff to develop a community-grant program for 2025 that would delegate decision-making to a qualified third-party partner – perhaps a task force or partner organization that already issues grants like United Way.

“There are a lot of models out there – committees, community foundations, other NGOs that understand the community sector,” Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Vaughan said.

Mayor Lucas Cleveland offered an amendment – that, at no point in this term of council, would there be any grant to Moms Stop The Harm or Green Wood Coalition.

“I am hearing very clearly from some members of our community they are concerned this level of government and the county are supporting programs they don’t agree with,” Cleveland said.

“I think it’s an appropriate topic and will be asking for a recorded vote.”

Beatty noted that any citizen might potentially find any of their grant recipients offensive or object to the favourable rental terms the town offers Northumberland Players or the Dressler Foundation.

She reported that Moms Stop The Harm had not requested anything of the town, and Green Wood Coalition had asked for the use of the Victoria Hall Concert Hall for their annual arts festival Imaginate.

In the recorded vote, Cleveland’s amendment was defeated after getting support only from himself and Councillors Brian Darling and Miriam Mutton – who was sufficiently outraged to express her own opinion afterward.

“It’s extremely difficult to support an ideology where people who are friends and family are getting hurt,” Mutton said.

“What I resent is embedding the organizations that are costing the taxpayer and other citizens so much. I have been extremely patient, and I am really upset about the effort that goes into trying to be fair to everyone and yet ends up hurting people.

“I am glad the mayor brought it up, but I am just shaking with concern, and this jeopardizes everything. I really don’t think you appreciate the implications of turning a blind eye to activities that end up hurting other people.”

Beatty offered to have this discussion with Mutton in a more private forum.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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