March 1st, 2024

City’s grants system ‘in flux’ and rising

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 24, 2024.

Coun. Ramona Robins, shown in this May 2023 file photo, has proposed the city develop a program to evaluate grant requests from community groups looking to undertake capital projects and determine a set budget amount for projects.--News File Photo

As the city examines how and how much it dedicates to local festivals, councillors will also be asked to extend ongoing grant support to help local organizations with capital projects.

Coun. Ramona Robins’ suggestion to allocate a set pot of money and develop award guidelines will be reintroduced in February, but the committee she chairs heard an overview of current circumstances on Monday.

That has risen substantially over several years, but due to emergent issues, administrators told the public services committee, and while there is a system in place to award some city grants, generally requests outpace the amount of money available.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Robins told the committee. She has separately asked council to consider a grant program to help downtown business owners install safety items, such as alarm and lighting systems. Both motions were postponed last week until Feb. 20.

“We didn’t have enough money in the pot to do all that we want, so two questions are: How do we expand the net, and is there enough money?”

A staff report states that in 2023, the city provided $3.4 million in its major ongoing operational grants program, but that is heavily weighted by the Medicine Hat Public Library ($2.25 million), a legally separate entity from the city, and the regional Shortgrass Library System ($300,000).

Another $500,000 is part of a brand new two-year grant agreement with HALO air-rescue society. Medalta ($183,000), the SPCA ($104,000) and the YMCA ($70,000), also received amounts totalling about 10 per cent of the $3.4 million.

In terms of capital grants, the total was $1.12 million last year, but again, with $870,000 dedicated as part of a loan-guarantee solution to get repairs underway at the Medicine Hat Curling club.

Public Services managing director Brian Stauth reported that the curling club has secured third-party grants that will negate most or all of the need for a loan, but how the city provides grants is changing.

“It’s in a bit of a state of in flux, and there are things we are working on in terms of grant (allocations),” he said. “It’s about what sort of support is available, and notes that we’ve had a significant increase since 2019.”

Other capital grants have typically been on an case-by-case basis, usually for shared or user group facilities, such as Medicine Hat Little League, the Grassland Naturalists, the Tennis Club or the creation of a cricket pitch in a city park last year.

Stauth and parks manager James Will said their staff is in annual contact with user groups about potential projects.

“There’s a process to determine the greatest impact to the community and that helps us determine the level of support (from the city),” said Will. “We do put it out to all user groups.”

Stauth said criteria from the smaller, more recent “Community Vibrancy” grant system could be applied to other requests, but study is required.

“It’s still a work in progress and we’ll want to take a look at it,” said Stauth.

Committee member Coun. Robert Dumanowski said both event grants and capital projects add to the community, but there must be a defined amount of money.

“The bigger conversation that council is hearing is there are a lot of groups looking to do things … and I think the enthusiasm is fantastic,” he said.

“How do we celebrate community, especially coming out of COVID? But there’s a desire to manage money properly, and here’s an opportunity for us to be an incubator for some of that.”

The other main category of grants dealt with by the city are for programming under the umbrella of Family and Community Support Services, which is funded 80 per cent by the province and administered by the city.

Since 2019 when applications requested a total of $670,000, the 2023 total amount requested from local agencies for programming was $1.05 million when only about $320 was available.

The city also received vibrancy grant applications totalling $450,000 last year, and awarded $50,000, and also $17,500 in applications for $500 micro-grant requests.

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