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City’s support systems may need a helping hand

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The City of Oshawa provides thousands of dollars in grants and assistance to local charitable and non-profit groups every year. Now, according to a recently released report, the programs may need a little assistance of their own.

Detailed in a document to the city’s finance committee, staff point out a “number of challenges” they face when making recommendations to council regarding which organizations should be approved for funding.

In particular, staff highlight a disconnect between the number of programs being recommended for approval, and the number which council actually ends up approving in a given year. Put simply, council is approving grants for a greater number of programs than is being recommended by staff.

“Which indicates a lack of synergy when evaluating requests against the council approved criteria,” the report reads.

These criteria are essentially a checklist for staff to determine which organizations should receive funds from the city for the work that they do, either in the form of anchor or partnership grants, financial assistance or the waiving of municipal fees.

Each program has certain aspects that must be met, most commonly the group must be a local not-for-profit and the request must address a community need and must be under a set amount of dollars. For the waiving of fees, and financial assistance programs the request must be under $500, for the partnership grants any grant over $5,000 will not be recommended for acceptance.

Of the assistance programs, each has their own challenges. The anchor grants are consistent each year with registered “anchor” organizations and sees annual increases based on the consumer price index (CPI); while there are rules stipulating the removal of an organization for inactivity, there are no processes in place to add new organizations. The city’s program to assist seniors and people with disabilities will also need to be addressed in the near future as the numbers have ballooned to 495 applicants requesting over $258,000 this year from 341 applications requesting a total of $82,250 in 2009.

However, based on the staff report, the largest disconnect is seen in the city’s partnership grants program.

In 2015, in the partnership grants program, staff only recommended a single application for approval in the amount of $4,400. Council approved 10 applications for $69,300. This year, 13 applications were received, requesting a combined $68,000, of which staff recommended none of them for approval based on council’s criteria. In the end, council approved 12 of the applications for a total of $70,000.

According to Mayor John Henry, the criteria for the assistance programs are reviewed on a biannual basis, but the challenge lies in the fact that the needs in the city continue to grow.

“I know that we do a lot more than other communities and some communities don’t do anything,” he says. “It’s a challenge because there are so many needs out there and you try and do a little for everybody.”

At the most recent meeting of the finance committee, the report received little discussion, but was referred to a special meeting of council later this month, “to make sure we have a very firm understanding of our responsibilities,” said Councillor John Aker.

A date for that special meeting has yet to be set.