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Eliminating community grants in budget ‘unacceptable’: councillors

James Hepburn, treasurer corporate services, watches as staff add community grants and recreation grants back into the 2012 draft budget.

The cavalry around the Shire Hall horseshoe came to the rescue – for now – of funding for community organizations and the County’s recreation committees.
During day three of draft budget talks Friday morning, Prince Edward County councillors refused to agree to elimination – without warning – of  in-kind and monetary grants given to many small organizations as well as the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce, Taste the County, the Arts Council, Regent Theatre, Glenwood and Wellington cemeteries and ward recreation committees.
The grant program’s expenditure for 2011 was $416,772. Treasurer James Hepburn outlined the numbers for 2012, noting the budget does reflect grants that were previously approved by motion and are ongoing: $60,000 Prince Edward Fitness and Aquatic Centre operating grant, $100,000; Tri-County Healthcare Foundation Joint Diagnostic Imaging Campaign and $50,000 University Hospitals Kingston Foundation.
“The rest of the grants (including community foundation grants below $1,000 and up to $5,000 and in-kind donations such as free hall rentals) are not funded in this budget,” said Hepburn.
Councillor Kevin Gale said “pulling the rug out from under these people” is an unacceptable move that would fracture and cripple the community.
“It’s just wrong,” said Gale. “If we’re going to get rid of the grant program or if we’re going to alter the grant program then it has to be announced to the public.
“We save a lot of money in the municipality based on what these volunteers do on their own time, and quite often with their own money. To bring this in like this is unacceptable.”
Councillor Bev Campbell said the grant program is part and parcel of the whole way services are delivered in the County.
“I’m not proposing to argue for keeping $400,000 in the budget for that purpose, but many organizations have come to rely on us and we’ve encouraged them and worked with them for services we believe are essential,” she said. “If we’re going to phase back, I think the community needs some notice of that. We could see reduced amounts – maybe by a third – and serious discussion, but I can’t see saying no grants without discussion with the community.”
Councillor Jim Dunlop said it would be unfair to make cuts without first hearing presentations from the groups at the Feb. 22 meeting and telling them “we’re taking a hard look at what they’re asking for.”
Councillor Robert Quaiff suggested the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce and Taste the County should be categorized as economic development.
It was noted the agreement with the chamber expired in 2011 and has not been discussed since.
Councillor Dianne O’Brien suggested expanding the community grants program as “volunteers come into play as a huge resource for the community and they will fit in with our coming discussions on what we’re doing with town halls.”
Councillor Terry Shortt said any modifications should be taken over a three or four-year period to allow the organizations to make preparations.

All councillors expressed the importance of  the recreation committees and while noting return on the $73,931 investment is high, had some questions about the committees’ bank accounts and being tasked with capital concerns.

“I’m appalled that you would even consider attacking recreation committees who go to the grassroots of the County and do so much good,” said councillor Nick Nowitski. “This is the only thing that we directly give to the taxpayer and their families; their kids, their communities. This shows that the county cares about the communities. What you’re doing is saying ‘to hell with you we need every dime we can get’ but we’re not willing to cut our salaries or the salaries of anybody else who works here, but we’ll steal money from everybody or anybody we have a chance to.”

The County’s new CAO, Merlin Dewing had noted the recreation committees have $155,000 in reserves “and you perhaps would want to ask yourself why they would need the grant money this year when that reserve money could be used.”
Shortt explained money in reserves also includes fundraising efforts that have nothing to do with what they receive per capita.
“Demorestville wouldn’t have a playground, wouldn’t have an outdoor skating rink and we wouldn’t have all the improvements to Northport Park which have not cost the community as a whole. It’s because the fundraising activities of these groups paid for that, their own efforts. We have people come out, they’re skilled labourers who work and we don’t pay them what they’re worth. They volunteer their time and do the work. If we had to pay them for what’s been done over the years, you’d be talking a lot more dollars. Seriously take a look at the dollars per area and what that area has done with that small amount of money. This isn’t a grant, this is a community working for itself and multiplying greatly (the money they receive).”
Much of the money, Councillor Alec Lunn agreed, goes toward capital projects and making repairs at town halls.
“It’s community people trying to keep their hamlets together, the town halls, the activities for families, the whole bit.”
Mayor Peter Mertens concluded the discussion suggests a review of process, practices and terms of reference.
“I do have a problem with $155,000 in bank accounts unless the funds are specifically earmarked for a project. The intent of recreation committees initially was to manage programs that in a lot of municipalities are managed with staff in parks and recreation programs. Now the role is expanding into capital, and buildings, and it should be discussed.”
The treasurer showed the larger grant requests for 2012:
Glenwood $45,000 and $10,000 in-kind for road materials and equipment provided by public works;
Wellington cemetery board $6,000
Chamber of Commerce, $59,032
Taste the County $50,000
PEFAC $20,000 (motion in council)
Regent $50,000
PEC Community Foundation $25,000
PEC Arts Council $16,000
Festival Players $8,500
Friends of Wellers Bay $5,000 (moved to another budget line)
plus requests under $1,000 that have not been reviewed.
The requests have been restored to the budget and will be “modified to reflect needs” after presentations at the Feb. 22 meeting.
Councillor Brian Marisett expressed concern about figuring out how to afford business as usual.
“There’s hardship in our community. There’s some people who are really suffering. I don’t know how we can afford status quo.”

* * *
February 21 – Budget Concerns Meeting – Councillors of Picton, Hallowell, Bloomfield & Wellington wards are jointly hosting a “town hall meeting” at the Bloomfield Town Hall 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to discuss the 2012 budget which is currently being considered by Council. Mayor Mertens and CAO Merlin Dewing will be present. Everyone is welcome.

February 21 – Budget Concerns Meeting – Councillors Robert Quaiff, Barb Proctor and Jamie Forrester will host a Budget Concerns Meeting Feb 21st at 7pm at the North Marysburgh Hall. Confirmed attendance by CAO Merlin Dewing, Commissioner of Corporate Services Susan Turnbull and Mayor Peter Mertens.

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  1. Administrator says:

    Both those links work just fine for me – but here it is embedded:.

  2. Okay, I give up. Neither of those links can get you direct access to that video; you simply have to open a new window or tab.
    Question for Countylive personnel: can this be fixed or is it a YouTube issue?

    Here’s my final attempt (the video on the NBFA’s own blog):

  3. My apologies for that awkward link (requiring you to open a new window or tab). That video is short and very insightful and may open your mind to the idea that arts and culture aren’t “the icing on the cake” but an integral part of a delicious and fulfilling cake that we all need to eat.

    This one should work simply by clicking on it:

  4. Doris Lane says:

    Et Al

    I understand the value of the arts, I paint and I have been in plays—I just think in this economic downturn that these various organiztions should be self sustaining and not take a bite out of the taxpayer who in most cases can ill afford to pay more taxes
    Right now food and heat and general household expenses are the only things that some people can afford.

  5. Marnie, I refer you to the video I linked to below (you may have to open it in a new tab or window) as it does address the economic value of a thriving arts community.

  6. Marnie says:

    You got it right, Doris. There are many senior citizens in the county who are living on fixed incomes. They cannot afford the “inexpensive” cultural offerings available to others who enjoy higher incomes and they certainly cannot afford higher taxes. It’s difficult to benefit from arts and culture, for those who struggle to meet day-to-day expenses. When the chips are down, arts and culture are the icing on the cake. Some people have trouble affording the cake. We should not forget this.

  7. Doris, organizations like Taste, the Regent Theatre, the PEC Arts Council, and Festival Players (among others, Small Pond Arts included) contribute to the overall culture of PEC. That you don’t partake of, or find value in, what these various groups have to (inexpensively) offer is unfortunate.

    The council has decided wisely to continue supporting these groups because they seem to understand that art and culture benefits us all, not just a few. Maybe this short video can help you understand this importance:

  8. Doris Lane says:

    Organizations such as the Taste, Regent. Arts Council and Festival Players should be self sustaining They put on many productions. and should be able to fund themselves, When people in the County are suffering with the high cost of living why should we spend money on services that benefit only a few,
    This is not a rich community–far from it-it is financially in trouble like the rest of the world
    And while council is at it they should get rid of some of those buildings they do not need

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