At last week’s Council meeting there was a substantial discussion about Council’s role in providing financial support for not-for-profit organizations in our community. The discussion was stimulated by one Councillor putting forward a motion to provide one organization $10,000 from the COVID-19 grant the City received from the Province.
As has been reported publicly, the City of Quesnel received $2.5 million from the Province in the form of a “Safe Restart” grant to assist it to deal with budget shortfalls and incremental expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This money could also be used to support improvements to connectivity in order to allow Council to conduct more of its business online and to support vulnerable populations that have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
During budget deliberations, Council allocated all but about $23,000 of the $2.5 million the City received from the Province. The grant money was primarily allocated to backstop the loss of Casino revenues, make up shortfalls at the airport, address incremental costs to the City, improve connectivity in Council Chambers and other City-owned buildings, and to cover other eligible COVID-related direct impacts to the City’s budget.
However, $100,000 of the provincial grant was also allocated to assist the fledgling North Cariboo Seniors Council and another $100,000 was tagged for assisting vulnerable populations, with a nominal targeting for this funding to be used to support a new food security initiative that’s underway in the City.
At no time during our budget deliberations did any Councillor raise the need to directly support not-for-profit organizations with the provincial COVID-relief funds. The reason for this is simple: there are a lot of not-for-profit agencies doing important work in Quesnel; they all have significant financial needs on an ongoing basis and have all been impacted to varying degrees by COVID-19; and, the City does not have the capacity to determine which needs should have priority in order to distribute any limited resources we may have to these organizations in a principled way.
Years ago, Quesnel had a “grant-in-aid” program that allowed Council to politically support groups in the community with taxpayer money, allowing the Mayor and Councillors to get kudos and photo-ops for providing nominal cash contributions to not-for-profit groups in the community. That program ended in 2009. The Quesnel Community Foundation was formed in 2001 and this independent body set up a process, separated from the politics of the day, to support local groups with a mix of tax and grant dollars and private donations.
Quesnel City Council now has a hard policy that we do not use local property tax dollars to support not-for-profit organizations, other than rare exceptions when a not-for-profit supports the City’s and Council’s strategic initiatives. With the provincial COVID-19 money we received we do have some flexibility, but the issue for Council remains the same: how can we possibly be the arbiter of which not-for-profits need what amount of financial support?
Every not for profit in our community serves a purpose and meets a need. The best way we, as citizens, can give them ongoing and sustainable support is by regularly donating to these local organizations. The best way Council can support them is by using our political leverage to get them increased and ongoing provincial aid and external grant funding.