There are 38 organizations requesting more than $383,000 from the community grant fund offered by the Town of Smiths Falls, but council is holding off on its approval of the staff recommendation until hearing from some of the delegates at their Jan. 15 meeting.
Those seeking $10,000 or more will have an opportunity to present their applications, offering council an opportunity to find out more information about their requests.
During the town’s committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 8, Julia Crowder, the town’s economic development and tourism manager, recommended a one per cent budget allocation on the 2024 property tax generated revenue to support the requests, as well as potential additional funding requests that may come in.
In the past four years, funding to the community grant program has seen $31,000 for two applications in 2020, $90,000 for five applications in 2021, $85,000 in 2022 for eight applications, and $103,000 in 2023 for eight applications.
A one per cent tax hike for community grants would equal $179,000. The proposed allocations are currently $142,605.16, leaving $36,394.84 to support any adjustments to proposed funding recommendations and/or additional funding requests through the year.
Mayor Shawn Pankow said community grants have “certainly increased” over the years, from $30,000 to roughly $180,000.
“Looking at the outcomes, I’m not sure the policy meets the intent that we wish it to and need, and that’s the challenge we grapple with,” he said.
In 2015, the mayor said requests for community grants became “very political and we would spend hours debating who deserved what based on merits of our own interpretations.”
At the time, the mayor said it was Coun. Jay Brennan’s suggestion that staff develop a policy and scoring matrix to determine allocations.
“We made adjustments to the policy last fall and what we’re seeing today is some unintended consequences,” Pankow said.
They may need to refine the criteria, he added, “but I think we need to give staff direction as to why we need that refined. My sense at the outcome is that we haven’t got it right at this stage.”
Malcolm Morris, the town’s chief administrative officer, said what council sees before them (a spread sheet of requests) is an attempt to take all subjectivity out of the grant allocation process.
“This is a mathematical exercise,” he said. “What we discovered when we looked at 38 applications is applying the 50 per cent of gross doesn’t even come close to the budget, which would have to be five per cent of the total budget. So that’s why I’m recommending we look at the net 50 per cent of the debt because it fits the budget. More importantly, if the policy is to fund 50 per cent of the gross, the taxpayer could be funding a money-making operation. I don’t think that’s the intent of the community grant — to contribute to a surplus.”
It’s not perfect, Morris added, but it saves staff from picking and choosing who gets money and who doesn’t, “based on emotion rather than a mathematical calculation.
“We have the bones of a good policy,” Morris continued. “We just need to modify it to compensate for the vast differences in how 38 applicants run their event or their operation.”
Pankow added that they need to look at different scoring criteria for different types of organizations.
Morris asked how would they measure the societal impacts as that would be subjective.
“That gives us a challenge to get us something that is more innovative,” Morris said.
The community grants were established to help organizations get seed money to kickstart events. “It was never meant to be an ongoing subsidy.”