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Review of grant program expected

City council meeting with non-profits to hear impact reports of outside agency grant changes
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St. Albert place FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

This is the final instalment in a series examining how local non-profits are doing since changes to the way the city handles grant funding came into effect this year.

St. Albert city council will be meeting directly with local non-profits this fall, in advance of their 2020 grant applications, to determine the full impacts of changes to one of the city’s major grants.

This year, local non-profits experienced the implications of changes to the city’s outside operating grant program for the first time, after council opened it up from an “invite-only” system and tied the amount of funding available to population.

While some organizations saw deep cuts of up to 45 per cent, overall the amount available was upped by almost $15,000 to $594,700, and two new organizations received funds: Stop Abuse in Families and Family Resource Centre.

Mayor Cathy Heron said council has asked the non-profits to report back on how the changes have impacted them, which council should see in October or November.

“This was not in any way a punishment or a reduction in our support for the community; this was a better way of making sure more people got supported by our funds,” she said.

Part of the reason the grant program was altered was to reduce a percieved doubling up on funds for the same program under various city grants.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said he supported the changes because he wanted to make sure grant applications were not stacked onto one another.

“It is to help defer costs for a particular program, but the idea is in that you shop around for every grant program that you have from the same organization to take care of all the costs,” he said. “I think agencies, when they get into doing business, they need to understand that there’s a cost to doing business that they need to participate in.”

Heron said during the last round of applications some of the organizations that saw a reduction in funding may not have fully understood the changes made, because there were still overlaps in their application.

During this year’s applications, Heron said organizations should have a better understanding of the process.

“They might be asking for less but what they ask for they should get all of,” she said.

At the time when council made the changes, Coun. Ken MacKay was afraid of the unintended consequences. While he was in support of ensuring there is proper accounting of the city’s money, he worried about challenges posed to organizations facing a shrunken budget.

“I’m always afraid of unintended consequences. You stop the water coming out of that hole, it’s got to come out somewhere else on the water hose,” he said. MacKay added it will likely take a few years to realize the full impact of changes.

Coun. Natalie Joly said she was pleased to see the outside agency grant program opened up to other organizations.

“It really brought transparency to the grant and made it accessible to all groups that are bringing value to St. Albert,” she said, adding the fact the grant is higher than it ever has been shows the city’s commitment to the community.

Municipalities across Alberta are unsure what to expect from the provincial budget this fall, a first under Alberta’s new United Conservative Party government.

Joly said the uncertainty of funding is top of mind, and St. Albert has to be thinking about tightening its belt.

Heron said while conversations have not taken place yet, she does not expect to see an increase to the outside agency operating grant for 2020. But she said council will decide after hearing the organizations’ impact reports.

The St. Albert Seniors Association declined an interview for this series of stories. Councillors Jacquie Hansen, Sheena Hughes and Ray Watkins were not available for interviews before press time.

Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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