By Howaida Sorour-Roberts
Every year it’s an emotional issue and one that doesn’t seem to get any easier for Smiths Falls council. Two years ago, an effort was made to define a community donations policy to help guide both council and applicants through the process of applying and succeeding.
“The goal of that policy was to give clear direction to council and help staff coach and work with community groups,” said Chris Cummings, the Smiths Falls councillor who spearheaded the creation of the existing policy.
This year that policy is being revamped and several factors are being considered, because, as Cummings points out, there have been some unique asks that were not covered by the policy. The whole community donations policy, as currently written, is geared towards encouraging community groups to organize events that attract visitors to town or to pursue new projects that will increase the organization’s reach or impact.
“It might be better to have a scoring system that staff can implement before it comes to council, that would take some of the emotion out of the deliberations,” said John Maloney, Smiths Falls councillor.
In the meantime staff will be working on a festival and event policy as recommended by the economic development plan, according to Malcolm Morris, Smiths Falls CAO.
“Our challenge will be to identify special events that we can fully support and sanction, because at present we don’t have the resources to support all of them,” said Morris.
Of particular concern are the very large community asks that have come up over the past few years.
“The really big asks should be dealt with under a different fund than the one-day events. So anything over $5,000 should be a different type of ask,” suggested Maloney.
While Cummings agrees that those large funding requests that help to sustain various organizations should probably not be lumped in with community donations, he point out that under the present system they have to be, because those organizations are not town owned.
The difficulty as both Cummings and Maloney point out, is that every councillors is involved in community projects and has their particular favourites that they want to support. While everyone agrees that the events and organizations are important to the community, there is some question as to what the town’s role should be in supporting the various offerings.
“I think community donations should be used to enhance an event rather than sustain an event and we should look at capping the donations,” said Maloney. He also suggests that events that only pull in 200 to 300 people and haven’t grown over the past few years should no longer be supported by the town.
Essentially he’s advocating greater accountability for both council and grant recipients. For example, Maloney suggests that grant recipients should come back to council with a report on how they spent their grant, how many people they attracted to their event, how much was spent on advertising and which advertising avenues were most successful. That kind of information would give council a better idea of what does or doesn’t work, believes Maloney. He’s also suggesting that community organizations talk to each other and pool resources whenever possible to get a bigger bang for their buck.
“For example Paddlefest and the Urban Jungle could have benefited from that kind of collaboration, and although we talked about it, we never got around to it,” said Maloney.
Setting goals for the community donations policy though has to be the first order of business.
“We created a policy which we have not been following to the letter, so let’s look at what we want to achieve, and ask ourselves do we have the right goals in our sights and if not, maybe we need to rethink those goals,” said Cummings.
The trick, according to Morris, will be to strike a balance between town delivered events and building capacity within the community to launch events.
With budget season fast approaching, staff are already starting to work on budget 2017.
“We’ll be approaching council for budget guidelines and direction in late September, and we are revisiting the whole community donations policy either before or during budget deliberations,” said Morris.
In the meantime it looks like the closing date for community donations applications will still be Nov. 30 this year, according to Morris.