Facing a deficit, Prince Rupert City council cuts down on grants to save money

Community groups hoping to get more grant money from the City of Prince Rupert are out of luck, some see their grants cut in half.

With the City is facing a budget deficit which will require at least a 4.65 per cent increase in residential property taxes to make up for, the city council has decided to take an axe to this year’s community enhancement grants and essentially closing the door on the possibility new grants next year.

The move, in truth, saves the city very little money but the councillors hope it will show that the public that they are taking the need to make cuts in spending seriously.

“We have to demonstrate that we’re prepared to make cuts in certain areas,” says councillor Jennifer Rice.

At their meeting on Tuesday, council decided to not increase any of the grant amounts to more than what they were last year, meaning that any group hoping to get more money out of the city this year is out of luck. They didn’t stop there though.

The Association des Francophones et Francophiles du Nord-Ouest’s (AFFNO) Sugar Shack Festival, the Navy League (which funds the Sea Cadets) and the Growing Space will see their grants cut in half. And the North Coast Career Centre’s grant will be eliminated entirely. These cuts will save the city a total of $2,875.

“The [community groups] that are on that list are ones that were, in my opinion, given seed money and should be continuing on their own, a community group that should be funded by members of the community, or are businesses that should be funded that are using those businesses.” says Councillor Anna Ashley who suggested the cuts to their grants.

Other community organizations such as the Special Events Society, Halloween Fest and the Arts Council – whose combined grants are expected to be as high as $36,000 – are having theirs left alone. Ashley says that the groups being spared from the cuts bring community-wide benefits that the city should continue to support.

“In terms of the [community groups] I did not suggest . . . We’re going to give priority to grants that have these things: promotes volunteer support, have a huge community following. That’s where I look at Special Events, I know there’s money that we’re putting out, but those are key events. SeaFest and Prince Rupert go hand-in-hand.”

Council is paring back the funding for Prince Rupert’s National Aboriginal Day celebration though. The event had $5,000 made available for it to use last year, but it only needed $2,200, so council is capping their grant at that amount this year.

But those groups that did not get their funding reduced this year shouldn’t rest too easy. The city will be warning all of this year’s grant recipients in writing that their grants could be cut or eliminated entirely in 2013.

On top of that, council has essentially decided not to accept any new grant applications next year. They haven’t barred themselves completely from accepting a new application, but it has been made clear that unless the project is anything less than outstanding, it won’t even be considered. The provision for late grant applicants is also being reduced from $5,000 to $1,000.

These cuts all target grants being given to smaller community groups which, in fact, only make up 7 per cent of all the grant money the city will be giving out. The rest is all taken up by what is known as “the Big Six”: the golf course, the Prince Rupert Economic Development Corporation, the Library, the Museum of Northern BC, the Lester Centre, and Tourism Prince Rupert.

None of their grants are being affected other than having them frozen at their 2011 amounts. The library is actually getting an increase of $22,000 which will cover contract-mandated pay increases that could only otherwise be covered by having the library close an extra day in order to save money.

The idea was floated that perhaps the Museum of Northern BC should cut back its operating week by a day during the off-season to save money instead so the extra money could be given to the Library, but this idea was not included in the council motion.

“I feel that the Library has more to offer the community year-round compared to the museum . . . I’m thinking about what’s a better value for the citizens who live here,” says Councillor Rice.

After all the freezes, cuts and the one increase to the Community Enhancement Grants are all added up, the city will be spending about $4,000 less on grants than it did last year, but about $100,000 (equivalent to a 1 per cent tax increase) less than the amount the community groups were asking for.

Because the city is still spending less than last year’s spending, there’s no need to add on top of this year’s 4.56 per cent tax increase.

Councillor Joy Thorkelson argued that the savings from the cuts to small community groups were so insignificant that it wasn’t worth the disruption to the community’s “social fabric” just so the council could have some cuts for show. She still voted in favour of the motion along with Councillors Rice and Ashley. Nelson Kinney and Judy Carlick-Pearson were absent from the meeting.

When it came time to vote on the motion, Mayor Jack Mussallem made sure the record showed that he was against it. In his view the cuts did not go far enough.

The mayor argued that the city was “living beyond its means” and that the money would be better spent on the city’s many infrastructure problems.