April 16th, 2024

City of Medicine Hat eyes better grant approval system

By COLLIN GALLANT on February 21, 2024.

Coun. Ramona Robins wants a study to determine how the city considers capital grant requests from community groups and what a potential pot of money for projects could be worth.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

City Hall will study how grant requests from nonprofit groups could be evaluated and potentially fulfilled.

Coun. Ramona Robins told the regular meeting of council Tuesday that an obvious need exists, requests are being made and the city has resources to help community groups with money for building projects and equipment needs.

Her colleagues agreed by a 5-3 margin to study the issue, and potential guidelines for when to consider giving funds and the financial implications.

Nay voters said the city might be overwhelmed by requests better dealt with by the province or Ottawa, but supporters said study of the issue is needed.

“There are absolutely things that we’re not touching, and I want to know what it could look like,” she said, noting that she might vote against a specified fund.

It could suggest potential judging criteria for requests from nonprofit groups that typically receive operating funding, but can have trouble accessing capital project funds. Coun. Darren Hirsch said the needs in the community are unique on a case-by-case basis.

“Council has always listened to community needs and responded accordingly,” he said. “I don’t know how you put that within parameters.”

Robin’s notice of motion on the issue states costs for businesses and nonprofits continue to rise after the pandemic. That has hampered fundraising and donations, hurting the “viability” of community groups.

“Rather than respond to one agency at a time and create a queue of agencies to try to speak to council about funding projects, we should recognize the need and create an objective, apolitical funding criteria,” it reads.

The result could promote Medicine Hat’s strong financial position and willingness to bolster community efforts “by demonstrating (it) is positioned to offer some support for these projects through a one-time capital grant program for nonprofit agencies.”

Coun. Shila Sharps voted no, stating her opposition to shutting out private businesses from improvement subsidies when other governments have funds available.

Robert Dumanowski voted in favour of the review, but said a program could create new demand and complaints of bias.

“It’s not a bad idea, but … it’s an invitation to come apply for money that could be great, but could have challenges,” he said.

Mayor Linnsie Clark said it is simply good practice to have some direction on how to deal with requests.

“We know for a fact that several organizations have come forward in our term with requests,” she said. “Right now we’re operating on a first-come, first-served basis. It seems haphazard when we’re talking potentially about a lot of money.”

Coun. Andy McGrogan said, “A loose framework is better than what’s happening now. It’s worth investigating.”

City manager Ann Mitchell said administrators could provide at least a loose history of capital grant requests over the last 10 years. The review could be completed in May, well ahead of advanced 2025-26 budget deliberations.

Robins signalled in late 2023 budget discussions she would like a study of standardized protocol to deal with requests for help from nonprofit groups. The city is in good financial position to help, she said, but the potential cost of carving cash out of investments should be acknowledged.

The city provides a number of operational grants, such as for festivals or the family and community support services program. Parks and recreation department officials told a council committee last month they reach out to community groups asking about potential projects on an annual basis, and those are considered when park and facility improvements are planned.

However, they say response in any given year is mixed.

“We’ve tried to be ahead of the curve soliciting their plans with a survey,” said public services director Brian Stauth. “But it could be improved.”

An agreement signed last year to extend the lease for the Connaught Golf Club requires the club to either spend certain amount on capital upgrades each year or set money aside is a specific reserve fund.

At about the same time, the city agreed to purchase the Medicine Hat Curling Club as part of evolving negotiations that began with the request of a grant or no-interest loan toward replacing major building components and ice-making equipment.

A near $20-million request for grant and no-interest loans came to the city last fall from the Medicine Hat Stampede grandstand renovation. That issue is tabled as the city awaits more information.

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