It was a budget body slam last night (Dec. 18) in the council chamber at city hall. A bloc of five councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Heather Jackson as to who is behind the wheel on budget deliberations. Or at least the community grant portion of the 2018 city budget.
Councillors Steve Wookey, Joan Rymal, Mark Burgess, Mark Tinlin and Gary Clarke voted to adopt the budget as is. The 2018 financial roadmap for the city included a $60,000 cap on community grants to any one group or organization.
Jackson is opposed to a grant cap and therefore was in opposition to approving the budget as is.
She did a little politicking of her own by asking for a recorded vote so those associated with the Talbot Teen Centre (TTC) and St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre – two pet projects – would be well aware of her sympathy.
The TTC had sought $100,000 in funding while the art centre requested $71,000. Both well above the $60,000 cap.
Councillors Linda Stevenson and Jeff Kohler were absent for the 5-1 budget vote.
As an aside, Clarke was unsuccessful in his bid to have council consider a $30,000 grant request from the YMCA which was received after the Dec. 1 submission deadline.
The vote sends a message to the mayor her 2015 Policy on Granting Funds to Community Organizations needs a re-think. That document outlined a process whereby council would receive requests for financial support from community organizations and then set timelines for the submission of requests each year. The recommendation was .5 per cent of the current year’s municipal property tax levy would be budgeted for community grants.
It did not touch on capping the amount doled out to recipients on an annual basis. Read more about that here
However the battle lines were delineated at council’s Dec. 11 reference committee meeting that delved into community grants.
Wookey got the ball rolling by stressing he can’t support a $100,000 grant to the TTC.
Councillors Rymal, Burgess, Tinlin and Clarke expressed similar sentiment.
Tinlin had the most colourful comment on the community grant largesse, with some groups returning year after year.
“This is what we’ve gotten into,” noted Tinlin. “It’s like a drug.”
The united front forced Jackson to adopt a defensive strategy.
“We haven’t told anyone about a maximum limit,” she retorted. “This needs broader discussion.”
To which Rymal responded, “We have to be the drivers of the bus.”
Jackson was clearly unhappy with that turn of events.
Let’s revisit a reference committee meeting in April of this year.
Jackson observed, “All of council should be involved (in the grant process).”
Wookey quickly shot back, “Council should be removed from the process.”
Well, five members of council clearly were involved in the process last night.
Does this set up a Jackson vs. Wookey mayoral race next fall? Don’t forget Wookey was the highest polling councillor in the 2014 election with 5,278 votes.
The ultimate outcome on the 2018 community grant process would appear to be the opening salvo.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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