Perhaps the city’s alleged new community grant process isn’t quite yet carved in stone.
We wrote about the grant policy last week in advance of Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting where Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, recommended members deny small funding requests from the STEAM Education Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin because the money, according to Sheridan’s interpretation, is to be used for operating expenses.
Council heeded Sheridan’s advice but there was a notable sense of discomfort with the decision from several quarters.
Which, once again, opened up a debate over what is and what should the community grant policy look like.
Prompting this opening salvo from Coun. Steve Wookey.
“For the benefit of myself and everyone watching, I just want to review this very quickly.
“These grants are not meant for day-to-day operations. That’s where I have a little bit of a different assessment of it currently than the folks in treasury do.
“In my mind, the over-arching concept here is, does this help get something off the ground.”
A critical consideration put forth by Coun. Wookey as it could be applied to both funding applications before council on Monday.
Well, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.
While the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Continue reading →
The city likes to refer to it as “unintended consequences,” we prefer a consequential collapse in communication.
We’re referring, of course, to last month’s surprise announcement the city is to proceed with a procurement process to designate new operators for the EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Community Living Elgin (CLE) has been the agency to deliver the EarlyON program since July of 2018.
One of the “unintended consequences” is the realization the city cannot possibly have the new delivery model in place for the Jan. 1, 2021 launch.
This is required to offer a seamless transition from the old model as the CLE agreement with the city expires at the end of this year.
And so the existing agreement will have to be extended into the new year in order to get the new operator(s) up to speed.
Earlier this week, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
Such a shelter was one of the areas touched upon last month during a meeting between Mayor Joe Preston and downtown merchants who vented their frustration with the lack of attention paid to the plight of the homeless in the core area.
What Preston referred to as “solving the problems of the people causing the problems.”
My, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves. To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week. He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.” To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis. “We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”
While attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof. Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.” To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.” Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate. “I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle? “I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding? “I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining. That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year. With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget. Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year. That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.