It will take years for a St. Albert not-for-profit to recover from council’s decision to reduce their recommended funding by $30,000 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dynamyx Gymnastics Club is in the last stretch of opening its new 24,512 sq. ft. space in Campbell Park after years of volunteer effort to bring a purpose-built gymnastics facility to St. Albert.
The project began in 2011 when the organization realized it had outgrown its current space on Chisholm Ave., a former roller rink and bingo hall.
Last week, councillors voted down a committee recommendation to give Dynamyx $94,815, which would have covered less than 10 per cent of their project. Instead, the community living standing committee arbitrarily cut back the amount to $65,000.
On Sept. 21, despite three presentations from Dynamyx, council ratified that decision. The $30,000 remaining will roll over into next year’s capital funding pot despite the grant program being overwhelmed with asks from community groups this year.
"We're super disappointed, and a little shocked," said Cathy Schwer, co-chair of the not-for-profit's new building committee.
"It's just hard to understand what we needed to do to make them understand our ask. Even the recovery of that $30,000 that we didn't receive is going to take years for us to recover from."
During the Sept. 21 council meeting, councillors Jacquie Hansen, Ken MacKay and Ray Watkins voted against an amendment to reduce the original $94,815 to $65,000.
"Dynamyx met the criteria as did all of the other seven applicants, yet the committee is recommending an almost $30,000 decrease, which is obviously a huge amount for a not-for-profit," Hansen said, calling the recommendation "punitive and unfair."
"If it's the money the committee doesn't want to spend, why wouldn't a percentage be taken off all the applicants that made an application?"
Mayor Cathy Heron said the $65,000 was an arbitrary number based on the second highest ask. Rather than dole out the entire grant, she said she preferred to have a portion of it saved for next year.
"We're giving out a lot of taxpayer dollars in really difficult times, and I feel the $65,000 is generous," she said. "We've been doing a lot of things against policy just to keep our financial house in order, and this is just another way to do it."
Coun. Sheena Hughes said committees don't have to consider the city's budget next year. If the grant is oversubscribed again next year, the $30,000 held would not be available. Coun. Natalie Joly called it one of many difficult decisions the city will make to ensure it's making the best use of its dollars.
Watkins pointed out the city doesn't know what demand will be like for the grant program next year. Coun. Ken MacKay argued it's the duty of council to make decisions fairly, and in this case, he did not believe the city gave an adequate reason to Dynamyx for the reduction.
"We basically changed the rules mid-game, and ultimately only one of the players was impacted."
City 'dragged us along'
Dynamyx was going to use these funds to purchase new equipment for the gym and expand its programming, Schwer said.
"Now we don't have it, so we're not sure what we're going to do."
The $30,000 axed by council would have enabled the club to take out a loan to bridge lease payments issued by its current landlord, who did not apply for federal rent relief assistance during the pandemic.
Now, money will have to be shifted from equipment purchases to the development of the new building, she said.
"If the community would watch the standing committee and the council video and hear how they discussed future and policy, and then changed it in a moment ... it's sad that's what was happening in chambers, and that they have that ability to do that," she said.
“I don't know if those councillors and mayor really looked at the application and understand the scope of our project."
Dynamyx has been asking for council's support for the new gymnastics facility for the past seven years.
The group originally looked at securing funding through the capital partnership program, which was able to cover up to one-third of project costs to a maximum of $5 million, before operations were halted and the program was disbanded in June 2015.
Two years later, the project picked up momentum again after Dynamyx started advocating for the city to sign a memorandum of understanding for a city-supported, multi-purpose facility. Those plans were dropped after administration decided the city would not move forward with planning for a joint facility without the support of the St. Albert Gymnastics Club.
Other sports organizations, like soccer and hockey, are indirectly supported by the city through their use of municipally owned facilities on top of grant applications, Schwer said. Meanwhile, the gymnastics not-for-profit has had to find and pay for a new home all on its own.
"(The city has) dragged us along for seven years, so when you get to something like this where it's the last ask, and they take that away again, it's really dishearteningly disappointing."