Time for clarity at council

Recent council meetings have made something clear: Mayor and council need to update or review their policy around grant in aid.

I believe the last two council meetings have made something abundantly clear:  Mayor and council need to update or review their policy around grant in aid.

Each week, grant in aid requests come in to council asking for donations for different things, and it has always seemed just a little fickle. Whether a request is granted seemingly depends on so many factors: Who else has applied the same week, whether council knows who you are or what your organization does, whether someone is there to speak to the request should council have any questions and perhaps how the council is feeling and whether they have been discussing the budget recently.

While there is a policy in existence around grant in aid, councillors recently  asked about what kind of policy there was, so it is clearly not something the mayor and council are all overly familiar with.

The policy (available online at: https://fortstjames.civicweb.net) sets out some basic guidelines, outlining the criteria which will apparently be taken into account to assess a grant in aid’s worthiness.

Criteria like: “making a specific contribution towards enhancement of the quality of life within the community,” and “travelling outside the community, having attained a recognized level of excellence in areas of recreational, academic or cultural pursuits.”

At the June 12 council meeting, it surprised me when an individual young person came in requesting $1,000 for a personal trip, which while educational, I doubt very much will ever offer any benefit to the community as a whole. The individual was not asked to explain how he was achieving some sort of “recognized level of excellence” to make himself worthy of a grant from the community.

What surprised me even more was when council granted the young man $500 for this trip (perhaps thinking by cutting his request in half they were showing restraint), but then at the same meeting granted a team which promotes intercultural exchange within the community, athleticism and travel was given $400 after requesting $1,000.

Council then requested the team given the $400 volunteer at Canada Day.

I do not believe a request to volunteer was made to the young man walking away with $500 towards a personal trip.

The request to volunteer was not at all a bad idea, I only wondered why one grant included a request for volunteer hours and one did not.

In my mind it would make more sense for individuals to volunteer than a group, as many community groups are already giving to the well-being of the community and include volunteers simply to make them run – keeping an organization going takes time and effort.

At the same meeting I was part of a request for $500 towards materials for a shed which will be part of Stuart Lake Sailing Club infrastructure – infrastructure for a club which is trying to bring mentorship and water safety education to the community. The club infrastructure is on public land and is available to all members of the club which is open to the community and very inexpensive to join and is creating activities and infrastructure for the community as a whole (which in my opinion then makes it fit within the “making a specific contribution towards enhancement of the quality of life within the community.”)

I found myself speaking up for our request and had to reinforce why we deserved the entire $500, which is a relatively modest request from a club which almost never asks for anything from government.

Now, while I am clearly biased in my opinion, does it not seem a slight bit odd an individual can receive $500 for a personal trip to China for little to no benefit to the greater community while a local club creating local infrastructure and operating mainly on volunteer time which will help build and maintain the community has to fight for $500? To be fair, the young man who was given $500 did attend the meeting and promised to educate people he met in China on Fort St. James, but I honestly see it as a very slim hope anyone he meets will be visiting Fort St. James sometime soon.

And what about the two motocross racers who once again received a large grant in aid towards their travel costs? This is the second year in a row the pair have gotten funding from the community for their sport, which is great if we can afford it, as both riders have excelled to an exceptionally high level in their sport. However, Councillor Russ Gingrich has spoken out twice at recent meetings against granting money towards Aboriginal Day celebrations and Music on the Mountain based on fiscal constraints, but why then is he voting in favour of giving $500 each time to individuals in one meeting? The math doesn’t make sense to me, he votes in favour of $1,000 towards three people but votes against $1,000 towards the entire community.

While Councillor Gingrich did mention Aboriginal Day was not a municipal event, the $500 towards travel costs for motocross racers went to two young people who do not live within the municipality and therefore do not pay municipal taxes -would his reasoning not then transfer onto them?

So if we are concerned about giving money to Nak’azdli for Aboriginal Day because it is not a municipal event, why are we giving money to individuals who live outside the municipality to travel to an event outside the region?

It is good to support youth, but what about the youth who do not have the opportunity to travel or participate in expensive sports?

I understand being concerned about being too free with taxpayer dollars, and looking at the criteria the applicants need to meet to realize a certain amount of benefit to the greater community which could come from the grant, but is this actually happening and how consistant is it?

I would like to see some sort of consistency in choosing where to give money.

The grants are an asset which can benefit the community, but they should not be used without some foresight and thoughtfulness, and from the past two and a half years of attending council meetings, I’m not sure I see a lot of this.

Perhaps those basic criteria council has in place should be developed further and this could lead to some consistency and clarity.