I love the Meaford Museum. For a community of our size to have such a fantastic facility on our beautiful waterfront for residents and tourists to visit is a wonderful thing. I take my children to the museum a few times each year and they are always asking to go back.
Museums are important to any community. They are the guardians of our past. They help showcase our roots and remind us of what life and society has been like as we have moved through history.
Museums catalogue our successes and our failures and celebrate the progress of humanity.
As much as I value and support our museum, first and foremost I am concerned about doing what is right.
So I was very concerned on May 9th when Meaford's Treasurer handed members of the media a piece of paper on which was printed the community organizations that have applied for funding under the municipal grant program.
As I scanned the list of organizations, I was startled to see that the Meaford Museum had applied for a $1,000 grant to be used to help fund their 50th anniversary celebrations.
I actually did a double take. Certainly a municipal department- which the museum certainly is – hadn't really put in a request for funding from a grant program that is intended to support local organizations.
It couldn't be. But there it was in black and white.
My concern was somewhat alleviated when I noted that the request from the museum wasn't included in the “recommended” column. At least it wasn't at that time. By the next meeting of council on May 24th, the request from the museum had been added to the “recommended” column and not only did my concern return, I was flabbergasted.
All one needs to do is to read the first page of the eight page application form for what is officially called the “Annual Municipal Financial Assistance Program” or AMFAP.
“Community organizations often demonstrate a unique need for funding to initiate a special public event, recreational or cultural program for the benefit of the citizens of Meaford. As a facilitating supporter of volunteer based organizations and programs within the community, Council through the Treasury Department can make available funds, over a varying time period, in order to assist the group/activity in establishing self-sufficiency,” reads the opening paragraph on page one of the application.
Clearly this fund is intended as a means for the municipality to show support for the wide range of community groups who work hard to make Meaford a wonderful place to live.
This is not a funding program for municipal departments that need some extra cash outside of what they have in their budget.
The first point under the “Guidelines and Criteria” section of the application supports this.
“Grants are given only to not-for-profit organizations, events or projects that make a unique contribution to the quality of life in the community. Funds may be granted for seed funds, a one-time event, a charitable partnership or a unique need.”
Nowhere does it suggest that a municipal department can or should apply for funding under this program.
Item number four of the criteria makes it very clear who the program is intended for.
“The intent of the Annual Municipal Financial Assistance Program (A.M.F.A.P.) is to assist community organizations, events and projects to provide a broad range of activities and programs within the community.”
Given the guidelines and criteria for this municipal grant fund it is surprising that the request from the museum is even being entertained let alone shifted into the “recommended” column.
At budget time the council approved $35,000 to be allocated to the municipal grant fund. A relatively small budget item with a dollar figure reflective of the tough financial times that have been experienced in recent years by this municipality.
In the last two years the number of requests under the program have amounted to less than what had been budgeted however this year there are nearly $60,000 in requests for the $35,000 that is available.
What community groups have applied for funding?
Well, the list is long but it includes organizations such as the Georgian Bay Symphony, the Sweetwater Music Festival, the Bognor Canada Day Celebrations, the Sydenham Agricultural Society, the Meaford Farmers' Market, the Soup or Meal program, Friends of the Library, and the Scarecrow Invasion.
So in a year that the requests exceed the available funds, who would the Meaford Museum suggest has their funding request declined in order to ensure that they receive the $1,000 for their 50th anniversary celebrations?
We now must rely on our council to do what is right – and I am certain that they will.
At the next meeting of council, our elected representatives are expected to make final decisions with regard to the funding requests. Council must send a message that rules are rules, and that a municipal department has no business applying for grant funding that is intended to assist local not-for-profit organizations.
The 50th anniversary didn't sneak up on the museum.
They have had plenty of time to prepare for it – 50 years in fact - and just a few short months ago they prepared their budget for council approval and that is where the $1,000 should have been included. Even given the tough financial battles this municipality has experienced in recent years, surely council would not have balked at a measly $1,000 being added to the museum budget to help celebrate 50 wonderful years.
I personally feel that facilities like museums and libraries should be supported in any way possible, however we can't allow any municipal department to attempt to gain funding outside of their budget via a program that is intended to assist the hard working volunteer organizations in this community.
Surely $1,000 can be found in the budget of at least one municipal department that could be shifted to the museum.
Here's hoping that council will do the right thing and deny the request.