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Council to consider community requests

The Motor City Car Club’s annual Autofest event is one of numerous requests for city grants approved in principle by the community services committee. The requests still require final council approval in the budget process. The guidelines for the city’s grant programs are set to be reviewed later this year.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The city will consider more than $240,000 in grants to a number of community organizations in the 2019 budget.

The city’s finance committee and council supported a number of grant requests through the anchor and partnership program in principle at recent meetings.

If approved, $237,000 will be distributed through the anchor program, which provides registered organizations with consistent funding each year.

According to a staff report, these grants are meant to assist with “general operating and capital expenses of the organization, including administrative costs and program-related expenses.”

The grants cannot be used to sustain organizations such as ratepayer coalitions or tenant and landlord associations, political programs or services, for charitable donations or to pay debt retirement expenses.

A total of 13 organizations had their requests approved, including a $58,000 grant to the Boys and Girls Club of Durham for its breakfast club program, a $42,200 grant to Friends of Second Marsh for education and interpretation activities, $26,500 in-kind services for the Motor City Car Club’s annual Autofest event, $33,500 for in-kind services to the Oshawa Rotary Ribfest, and a $21,000 grant to Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame for its annual induction ceremony and dinner.

The committee approved a motion brought forth by Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson to move $5,000 grant requests from the Canadian Automotive Museum, Durham Outlook for the Needy and Simcoe Hall Settlement House be moved to the anchor program.

Staff will consider placing these organizations under the anchor program permanently starting in 2020.

Nicholson said the services provided by these three organizations are of great importance.

“I want to be a city that rises to the forefront and says to the Canadian Automotive Museum that we want the people to understand the automotive history of this city,” he said.

On Durham Outlook for The Needy and Simcoe Hall, Nicholson said the services they provide “have to be recognized by council.”

Nicholson wants to show Oshawa is “not just a city with a heart, but also a city with compassion.”

The city’s partnership grant program supports Oshawa-based not-for-profit community organizations and groups to deliver programs.

Organizations receiving grants are required to decrease their reliance on municipal funding.

These grants have similar guidelines to the anchor grant program, but also cannot be used for ongoing operating costs, raising funds for another charity, and support programs or services operating under the authority of another level of government.

The lone request given staff approval was from We Grow Food, which provides classes, programs and tours to the community related to the community gardens.

The funding, if approved, would be used to grow more than 1,000 seedlings to be transferred to various We Grow Food gardens.

However, council also chose to approve, in principle, 15 other requests totalling approximately $75,000, despite staff’s opinion they did not meet council-approved criteria for the grants.

Recipients include the Canadian Cancer Society, Kids’ Safety Village of Durham Region, Oshawa FireFit, and the Refuge Youth Outreach Centre.

All the grants are subject to final council approval in the 2019 budget deliberations.

Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson, who sat in on the finance committee meeting, said it gave him new insight into the city’s anchor and partnership grant programs.

Having previously appeared as an applicant with Backdoor Mission, Giberson believes the program needs to be reviewed, and perhaps given a new name.

Ward 5 city councillor John Gray said the program has been through many iterations and given different names but ends up serving a similar purpose.

Gray said despite the grants being approved in principle, he expects a “full and vigorous debate” during the budget process.

With the grant criteria changing almost every council term, Gray says this causes challenges.

“The reality is staff get put in a very awkward position. We’ve seen so many rounds of ‘change this category’, ‘change this description’, and maybe ‘eliminate these grants’, and it never works out that way,” he explains.

Therefore, while some applicants may not meet the criteria staff adheres to, there is merit within the community.

With that said, Gray says grant programs aren’t meant to “give organizations that are sitting on great surpluses of cash more money.”

“That’s why you have to have some form of criteria. These aren’t handouts where you just apply and you get. In this particular case, council listened carefully to the presenters, and found there was merit.”

As previously reported by The Oshawa Express, a staff report from November 2016 pointed out “a number of challenges” they face when making recommendations to council regarding which organizations should be approved for funding.

In particular, staff highlighted a disconnect between the number of programs being recommended for approval and the number which council actually ends up approving in a given year, asserting this “indicates a lack of synergy when evaluating requests and the council-approved data.”

City commissioner of finance Stephanie Sinnott told The Express there were plans to address the grant programs in 2017, however, the passing of committee member Nancy Diamond put them on the shelf.

The city’s previous council passed a resolution last year to review the programs in 2019.

Sinnott says this will be quite “an involved process” and hopefully, “the criteria and things staff recommend will be more in line.”

The commissioner said the ultimate goal of the program is for the city to remain “financially sustainable while helping as many people as we can.”