St. Albert city councillors have decided to keep funding for the city's oversubscribed community capital grants after hearing how a full cut would impact local organizations.
Originally, the city's pullback on expenses due to COVID-19 outlined a proposed $250,000 cut to community capital grants, affecting several St. Albert groups ranging from athletics to school parent advisory groups.
On June 15, council deferred the decision on both the community capital grants and $145,900 worth of operating grants to allow impacted groups to address council.
"For school parent associations, we face significant challenges in being able to raise funding for large capital expenditures, such as playgrounds, which are not funded by school boards," said Rabena Bacchus of the Keenoshayo Parents Association.
"Even if we were to allocate a portion of this funding that we raise every year towards the playground, and we were to apply for other scarce company grants or foundation grants, it would take us well beyond the remaining lifespan of our playground to raise sufficient funds."
A playground used by both the school and broader Woodlands community was assessed in 2018 by the city as being in poor condition and in need of being replaced. To pay for a new one, Keenoshayo Elementary School applied for $65,000 in community capital grants in order to be eligible for a matching provincial grant of $195,000.
The financial impact of not receiving the community capital grant this year would "likely be unrecoverable" for the school community, said Brian Samuel, Keenoshayo principal.
Joel McGovern, St. Albert Men's Slow Pitch Association president, said 2020 has been a difficult year for the not-for-profit. They applied for $30,000 in the spring, which had already been allocated for a much-needed lighting project and a shale garbage compound project.
"For the first time in our 40-year history, we've had to initiate an aggressive fundraising campaign internally just to offset emergency operational costs," McGovern said. "We are counting on this funding to come through, enabling us to complete this facility upgrade and move on to the enormous challenge of rebounding from COVID-19."
With the 2020 community capital grant program already oversubscribed, Coun. Ken MacKay noted if council did postpone all applications this year, the city could see a backlog of requests for 2021.
Charles Tshuma of the Africans & African Descents Friendship Club, said the organization was "disappointed" to hear the city could lose the community events program operating grant this year, as his club had applied to host their free 2021 Taste of Africa event to celebrate Black History Month. The grant would cover the venue and performance costs.
Anna Royer, senior advisor for grants and partnerships with recreation and parks, noted there were three grant applications for community events. One annual fall event requesting $2,000 would run the risk of not happening due to COVID-19 and facility availability, she said.
Operating grant funds reallocated
Coun. Sheena Hughes put forward a motion to reallocate $137,350 of 2020 operating grants to the general operating budget to offset the city's COVID-19 deficit while maintaining the full $250,000 for community capital grants and $8,850 for community events programs.
The operating grants that were cut this year covered a range of categories, incluidng environmental initiatives and athlete and artist development.
"There are a lot of organizations hoping and relying on this money that applied for it prior to everything shutting down," Hughes said of the community capital grants.
These organizations are building playgrounds and infrastructure for residents to enjoy, and postponing the grant program would only double the number of requests for the following year with no additional money available, she said.
"That's why I thought we should do the full amount right now, because we're already going to have to say no to almost half the applicants or reduce the amount they're getting as it is."
With so many other events cancelled this year, Hughes said saving a portion of the community event program would allow organizations to use the funds to boost community morale under current health guidelines and restrictions.
Hughes' motion passed unanimously.
Coun. Natalie Joly put forward an amendment to save the environmental initiatives grant for $25,200. That motion failed in a 5-2 vote with Joly and Mayor Cathy Heron in favour, and councillors Hughes, MacKay, Ray Watkins, Jacquie Hansen and Wes Brodhead opposed.
The decision will now go back to the community service advisory committee for review.