Over the years I have badgered this current council as well as the previous council for their messy handling of the annual community grant program, so it's only fair to dedicate some ink when they finally get it right.
In previous years I have highlighted council's seeming inability to follow rules – their own rules, which they put in place for the community grant program. Making matters worse, the community grants have been included as an agenda item for a standard council meeting, tacking three hours or more onto a meeting that would have already lasted a few hours.
The lengthy process saw councillors agonizing over specific grant requests, and spending far too long trying to find ways to bend rules in order to accommodate grant requests that didn't quite meet the criteria.
But not this past Monday, because council finally got it right.
Rather than including the community grants as an agenda item for a standard meeting, a special meeting was held in the council chamber on Monday. The meeting was dedicated to the first intake of the 2018 community grant program and nothing else. The new format saw representatives of nearly all of the community groups that had filed applications for a community grant attend council and make a brief presentation making the case for their grant request.
During the meeting council stuck to the rules, and over the course of four hours they heard, considered, and made decisions on grant requests from nearly 20 community groups and events. Though it took four hours, the meeting was efficient and thorough, and each grant request was given fair consideration.
Was everybody happy? Most seemed to be, but from my vantage point at the media table, I could see one or two folks becoming frustrated when it was clear that they wouldn't be receiving the full amount that they had requested in their grant application. Then again, most didn't receive the full amount requested, and for very good reason – there can never be enough money in the community grant fund to meet every request.
This year the community grant fund is $40,000 split between two intakes (the second intake will be in September), and the amount available for the first intake considered at council this week was just over $30,000. However the grant requests amounted to $43,000 - $13,000 more than what was available, so most had to be content with a lesser amount offered by council.
Council handled each request and presentation efficiently, they had positive interactions with the community groups requesting funding, and they got to offer some advice to some of those requesting grants, so all around the meeting was a positive experience.
In the past I have supported the concept of contracting out the community grant funding process, and there was an offer on the table at one time from a local foundation which does that very work. I still think that would be the best plan, particularly when you factor the amount of staff time required to receive applications, answer questions from groups seeking grant funding, and to coordinate 18 community groups attending council to make presentations.
However, if council can repeat the performance seen at Monday's meeting for future community grant meetings, and if they are comfortable with the amount of staff time that is gobbled up by the process, then I think they've arrived at a happy medium that meets the needs of the community, ensures that policies and procedures are followed, and that doesn't turn a four hour council meeting into a seven or eight hour debacle.