The Strathcona Regional District (SRD) Board has talked about greater transparency and accountability for more than a year. Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch says staff examined the policies of virtually every regional district in British Columbia. However when they finally unveiled their proposed policy at the March 11, 2020 board meeting, all four regional directors were opposed. The process of updating the SRD Grant-In-Aid policy has begun.
Key Aspects of The Draft Grant-In-Aid Policy
The key aspects of staff’s proposed policy are:
- “the flexibility to provide grants at a regional, sub-regional and community level is confirmed.
- grant requests would come directly to administration before being placed on an agenda for consideration by the Board or a committee.
- limits would be placed on the purposes for which financial assistance could be used, and requests for funding core operational costs would be discouraged.
- reports or financial statements may be required to confirm how grant funds were used.
- financial assistance provided under a service establishing bylaw or a partnering agreement would be unaffected by the policy.“
“Every policy, of every regional district, was that [grants in aid] come to corporate and the thought process is that corporate should be the one filtering it, not [the directors],“ said Leitch.
Regional Director Brenda Leigh’s Response
“Since grant in aid only comes from electoral area taxes, not municipal … and other board members, who are not involved with the areas, simply don’t know the organizations [or] the needs of the area. I try to spend the taxes collected from D tax payers on area D activities, because they are the ones that pay for it,” said Director Brenda Leigh (Area D: Oyster River – Buttle Lake)
“If the board in general wants a general grant that they can [disperse?], they should have a regional grant function that everyone contributes to – Campbell River … Sayward etc … As Director Abram mentioned, I already give a lot of money to Campbell River organizations – youth supports, second chance recoveries. I support things that are good for the whole community because Area D people access Second Chance Recovery. They access the art gallery and museum.”
“I think there is nothing wrong with the current grant in aid policy, except that you might want to ask for the follow up reports …”
“I think that Area D’s grants, since I have been Director, have been very fair. I always collect all the grant applications up until June and then I have them in a file and review them all at once, in relationship to how much money I have available … I look at all the grants and I try to meet their requests as closely as I can.”
Regional Director Jim Abram’s Response
Discovery Island Regional Director Jim Abram pointed out, “Should this policy go through as it is, I would have been unable to fund Tribal Journeys … (unfortunately he was more than 30 feet away, speaks softly and has a deep voice. I caught the words) … museum and numerous initiatives that were imperative for extra funding … It’s basically a cut and paste exercise of what other regional districts do. We have districts, here, that require specific types of funding for specific kinds of issues. It’s our tax payers money … This really limits us.”
Regional Director Noba Anderson’s Response
“I have, in the past, submitted detailed lists of all the applications I have received and some that I do not recommend funding. I think it is important that all applications, whether funded or not, are in the books. So if we are going to … [submit applications directly to the financial officer for the Regional District. we need ] … some additional steps in there that involve the director before a recommendation is made,” stated Cortes Regional Director Noba Anderson.
Speaking for a district that already has close to $600,000 in Gax Tax revenues it is finding almost impossible to access, Anderson added that the proposed policy update would prevent most Cortes organizations from applying.
Regional Director Gerald Whalley, of Area A, said the proposed requirement for volunteer organizations to provide financial statements simply was not going to happen in his area. Most of the organizations are too small, “that would just cut people off.”
“You can’t ask a group that has no money to go out and get an audited statement,” added Abram.
Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams disagreed, suggesting that where there is a will, there is usually a way for organizations to collaborate and make things happen.
“Speaking as a member of the Campbell River Rotary Club, we work with a lot of other small organizations that don’t have the capacity to do financial statements, or other things, and do it as a flow through to assist them to meet the criteria whether it be for the city, or province or other criteria,” he said.
“ … I have no desire to get involved in electoral area allocations, however there is a financial responsibility on behalf of the board that requires oversight.”
Interferes With Her Ability
Leigh believes the proposed policy update goes far beyond what the Local Government Act requires, “This policy interferes with my ability to run my grant program in Area D. If I feel that my grant program is being impacted by a bunch of rules that, in my opinion, are not even legal; that are far beyond what the local Government Act requires for a Grant in Aid Policy. Then next year, my budget for Grant in Aid allocations will be zero.”
Regional Directors Gerald Whalley’s Response
Director Whalley said, “Im in favour of referral (to specific committees) because it would be better for the committee to discuss it first and bring our recommendations to the full board. Then we would know where each other stands on it. We would have a more thorough discussion. If we do not do it in the committees first, we do not have a chance to pass it among ourselves.”
The draft Grant-in-Aid policy was referred to the Municipal Services Committee, Electoral Areas Services Committee and Strathcona Gardens Commission for review.
Top photo credit: Rebecca Spit – one of the the many scenic sites promoted by the Quadra Island Seniors, a volunteer organization that was given a Grant-in-Aid for $4,000 to help keep the Quadra Island Tourism booth open 7 days a week from May 15th to Sept 15th – see article on Cortes Currents – photo by Peter Abahamsen via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)