St. Albert city council has nixed a motion that would cut nearly $100,000 from the Arts and Heritage Foundation’s operating funding, council heard during budget deliberations in December.
Coun. Shelley Biermanski put forward a motion Dec. 7 to reduce the Arts and Heritage Foundation’s operating funding by $92,860. The cut would lower the foundation's ability to manage recently completed restorations of its heritage sites, and reduce full-time employees, director Ann Ramsden said in a written response to the motion.
The foundation is a non-profit group that manages the Art Gallery of St. Albert, the Musée Heritage Museum, and St. Albert's heritage sites, such as the Little White School, St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, and Riverlot 24. It also offers programming for youth and adults.
This year, the foundation received $1.7 million from the city, which contributed to its total budget of $2.4 million. Nearly all of this city-supplied funding — about $1.64 million — will go to wages, benefits, and contracted services.
During a presentation to council weeks before, Suzanne Richford, the foundation's secretary treasurer, said the non-profit group currently has 17 full-time equivalent permanent staff, down from 20 in 2020. Of the $1.64 million, Richford said around $70,000 is dedicated to contract services.
A breakdown of the foundation's wages, benefits, and contracted services, including the per cent they increased in 2022, was requested by Coun. Wes Brodhead during the budget information gathering process. City administration did not make the response publicly available, noting the request "contains confidential material."
Biermanski cited high full-time equivalent salaries as one of the reasons she put her motion forward during budget deliberation on Dec. 7.
“It’s a very substantial amount in salaries,” Biermanski said, going on to suggest this is especially true “when the businesses are not operating and open.”
Though the foundation has faced temporary closures of some facilities in the past two years due to COVID-19, its galleries are currently open under the province’s restriction exemption program.
In an interview with The Gazette, AHF director Ann Ramsden also noted the work the foundation does in terms of exhibitions is only “the tip of the iceberg."
“We do so much more from maintaining collections and buildings to running archival and community programs, as well as educational programs in schools,” Ramsden said, noting archival requests have increased during the pandemic.
When asked why the salary amounts for full-time equivalent employees seem substantial, Ramsden said the foundation’s salaries are in line with other non-profits, museums, and galleries.
“Two thirds of our funding comes from the City of St. Albert and its taxpayers, and we’re very conscious of that,” Ramsden said, adding that a third of the foundation’s funding comes from earned revenue. “We need to maintain an organizational structure that allows us to earn revenue.”
The non-profit group has actively worked to trim its budget in recent years, with a 12-per-cent reduction in 2020, and a five-per-cent decrease in 2021.
During council discussion, Ramsden noted the $1.7 million the foundation asked for this year is the same amount it requested in 2021, and therefore a reduced budget.
“We’ve got four additional houses to look after, and utilities are going up,” Ramsden said, speaking of four historical buildings — Belcourt house, Cunningham house, Chevigny house, and the Brosseau Granary — recently acquired by the Alberta Heritage Foundation.
“When we prepared our budget, it was pretty lean,” Ramsden said.
The motion failed 6-1, with only Biermanski in favour.