Some plates left empty as District of Kent carves grants-in-aid pie

Aquanauts and Harrison Highlanders Pipe band requests denied

The District of Kent Council approved nine of 11 grants-in-aid requests for the 2015 budget at the last regular Council meeting February 9.

The two that failed to make the cut were the Agassiz-Harrison Aquanauts Swim Club and the Harrison Highlanders Pipe Band.

The district often gets requests from the same organizations year after year such as from the Fraser Heritage Society or the Kent-Harrison Arts Council. Many of the repeat applicants received similar funding as in years past. Applicants must meet certain criteria, including a demonstrated financial need, sound financial and administrative management and considerable volunteer involvement.

This year, there were three new applicants for one-time projects. The swim club requested funding to help cover 50 per cent of a new equipment purchase. The Harrison Highlanders Pipe Band asked for money to cover equipment and uniforms. Lastly, the Royal Canadian Legion wanted help to cover the property taxes on their building.

The total amount of grants-in-aid requested this year was $37,295. The staff recommendation was provided to assist in maintaining the 2014 budget total of $28,290.

That means several groups were offered what they asked for, some got less and there was no money allocated to the swim club and pipe band. However, in financial director Judy Lewis’ report, she states the contingency of $2,790 provides “adequate funding” for Council to provide grants to both.

The recommendation didn’t include those two because “Council could approve them out of contingency funds and keep the total at last year’s Grant-In-Aid amount,” Lewis said to Council.

Council voted in favour of the recommended 2015 grants-in-aid amounts, including the contingency. Following that vote, Council discussed using the contingency to fund the final two applicants.

“I don’t think we should leave two out,” remarked Coun. Darcy Striker, although he questioned whether all the applicants seek funding from other sources such as the local Lions club before reaching out to the District for taxpayer’s dollars.

In a two-two vote (Coun. Duane Post was absent), Council voted to not provide funding to the pipe band and swim club through the contingency funding. Mayor John Van Laerhoven and Striker voted for the funding approval while Coun. Sylvia Pranger and Coun. Susan Spaeti voted against.

Spaeti told The Observer she does not want to set a precedent for organizations to keep coming back year after year asking for more money. She wants the District to focus on areas such as infrastructure, sewer and water and leave taxpayer’s money in their pockets as much as possible.

“I don’t think organizations should be dependent on the District for their funding,” says Spaeti.

Even organizations that have received funding from the District for years raises the question of why, says Spaeti, citing the example of the Agassiz Agricultural and Horticultural Association. She loves the fair and says she does not want to say anything bad about the organization. However, taxpayer’s money is already amply spent on the fair through work in-kind, roughly $16,000 to $18,000 per year, on top of the $6,000 grant-in-aid approved for 2015. The association received $4,620 in 2013, $5,000 in 2014 and was requesting $8,000 for 2015.

Mayor Van Laerhoven says any group who is not satisfied with Council’s decision is welcome to come back and do a presentation to Council at a future meeting. He says the decision by Council does not reflect on the quality of the applicants either.

“At the end of the day, Council wanted to protect the contingency,” Van Laerhoven says of the vote.

Approved grants-in-aid will be included in the District’s 2015 operating budget.