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City of Cold Lake councillor raises concern over 'inconsistent' grant policy

City of Cold Lake councillors found themselves immersed in a discussion on the act of giving during the Aug. 22 council meeting.

COLD LAKE - City of Cold Lake councillors found themselves immersed in a discussion on the act of giving during the Aug. 22 council meeting spurred on by a notice of motion from Coun. Vicky Lefebvre expressing concern with the City’s grant approval process and describing it as inconsistent.

Lefebvre was looking for her colleagues around the table to make amendments to its grants policy to ensure grant applications be considered by all members of council rather than the Community Grant Advisory Committee. She suggested the committee could be possibly restructured as a committee of the whole of council or that it be dissolved altogether, and all grant requests be considered directedly by City council.

The community committee has representation from two City councillors along with members of the community and is charged with vetting grant applications and making recommendations to council for consideration within the budgeted allocations for programs. The committee meets once per quarter and those seeking grants must work around the quarterly deadlines for submissions. However, given those timelines, there are instances when those requests have come directly before council or in some cases, council has had to hold a special meeting to consider a funding request.

“I just feel that when we’re looking at providing grants, sponsorships, etc., we just have no continuity. People can just write a letter to get money. Other people have to jump through hoops for us to give them money. We don’t really follow our policies and procedures as they are said,” Lefebvre said in explaining why she believes the City needs to revisit its grant review process.

Lefebvre stressed several times during the discussion that she values the work of the volunteers on the grant committee and the importance of the City supporting community events and organizations as much as possible. However, she suggested the sheer volume of requests coming through to the City makes the current process inconsistent and in need of a review by administration with recommendations brought back to council for consideration.

The City has had to add more money to its Community Recreation, Art, Culture and Heritage Investment Fund twice this year to address the increasing requests from the community for support. The 2023 budget was initially set at $100,000 but two budget amendments adding $85,000 and then another $40,000 to the pot have already been made. Currently, according to information from administration the grant pot now has a hole in excess of $75,000. Total grant allocations this year to date have amounted to $274,350.

In its background information provided to council, administration noted that while the economic spinoff of many of the events that are being supported by the City are notable, concerns do exist with the how the grant system is applied, one of them being that the grant program is not adequately funded. Based on the existing grant policy, the review committee “should reject all further applications due to the budget being exhausted.”  However, given recent approvals of funding by council itself, “council has not signaled this approach for various reasons.”

“What should the committee be recommending on grant applications if there’s no money,” CAO Kevin Nagoya asked. “Should it be struck from the policy then that there is no budget – it doesn’t matter?”

Mayor Craig Copeland said ultimately all the grant funding decisions are made at the council table and he expressed he had no concern with being $75,000 over its existing budget on the grant front. He said cost of funding some of the events, especially the big-ticket ones, is outweighed by the “economic stimulus” it brings to the city.

“If we were in it for 20 grand, I’ll guarantee you that the economic boon in the city was a lot more zeros than that. If you’re going to put these all requests into a funding envelope, then council is going to have to make some big decisions on some of these big numbers,” Copeland said, warning that it will come with its own price. “I think if you scale this back you are going to have a pretty big boomerang. I’m not prepared to live with it . . . In the end, we’re assigned by the residents to allocate taxpayer dollars. We’ll live with the consequences in the budget process when Kevin tells us where we are at with any potential surplus to pick up the slack.”

Coun. Adele Richardson, who represents council on the grant committee along Coun. Ryan Bailey, agreed that there may be some processes that could be cleaned up, however, she supports the work the committee is tasked with.

“It’s never going to be black and white … I think as we go through the current economic situation and as we look at all these people coming forward, I am in support of what we do and a lot of what we give,” Richardson said. “I know we’re going over budget, but I think we look at how our community’s thriving compared to so many surrounding communities . . .  it is because of the support.”

Copeland wrapped up the discussion by stating the City of Cold Lake council is “distinctly different from many councils out there. Cold Lake council is considered very giving. That’s been a reputation for not only this council but for a long time.” He added, “If you’re afraid of this list and afraid of giving money then you’d have to bring to budget 2024 discussions and you gotta ratchet it down to a number and it’s going to come with consequences,” Copeland said.

Lefebvre agreed to a friendly amendment to her notice of motion, with council agreeing to direct the policy to corporate priorities for review this fall for consideration of potential changes for next year.

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