BARRHEAD - Community organizations in Woodlands County received a stay of execution of sort.
On Dec. 1, Woodlands County councillors during their Fort Assiniboine meeting instructed the administration to forward Policy 7002 (Community Organization Capital and Operating Grants) to the Community Services Board for its input and then bring the comments back to council for consideration.
Currently, Woodland County community not-for-profit groups, which run recreation or cultural facilities such as community halls, campgrounds and curling and ice arenas, and museums are eligible for grants that cover up to 50 percent towards capital projects and 90 percent of the cost of utilities and administration. Community groups can also submit for reimbursement insurance, maintenance, and janitorial costs to a 75 percent level.
If councillors approve the amended policy will reduce the amount organizations can apply for, meaning they will be responsible for paying more of the operational costs.
Approved community groups will no longer be able to include administration and janitorial expenses. In the Request for Decision (RFD) paper administration notes organizations should be passing janitorial costs when charging rental fees of their facilities.
The RFD also states the vast majority of groups have little to no administration costs and therefore the elimination of the funding will have minimal impact.
For the three agriculture societies, Fort Assiniboine, Anselmo and Whitecourt and District, that do have higher accounting costs, administration states via the RFD that they can be subsidized through their Alberta Agricultural Societies grant.
The county would also reduce the amount organizations can claim for utilities by 15 per cent. Currently, community groups can claim up to 90 per cent of their utilities. Organizations are also eligible to receive up to 75 per cent of their insurance and Workers Compensation Board expenses.
It should also be noted that the proposed policy allows groups with an indoor ice rink or museum to receive up to 75 per cent of their wage expenses up to a maximum of $50,000.
On the capital side, community organizations will still be able to apply for a 50 per cent matching grant.
However, if the proposed policy is approved, community groups will no longer be able to use other grants to fund 100 per cent of their contribution.
"Community groups must contribute some of the funds," the RFD states.
The policy also proposes that donated labour, equipment or materials will be valued at $15/hour for unskilled labour; $30/hour for skilled labour (note a copy of a ticket or certification must be provided) $60/hour for heavy equipment and operator and donated materials at verified fair market value.
Applications for capital grants must also be submitted by Sept. 15.
Fort Assiniboine/Timeu Coun. Dale Kluin asked why administration had sought to bypass the Community Service Board by bringing straight to council.
Chief administrative officer Gordon Frank said it was to give communities more lead time when planning their budgets.
"The longer you put off the changes in the policy the harder it is for the community groups to make adjustments," he said. "If they know they are picking up 75 per cent of the power they then know they have to take steps to reduce their electricity consumption."
The changes in the policy were in response to councillors' instructions to administration to find efficiencies in the budget in response to the municipality losing $9.5 million in revenue due to unpaid taxes in 2018 and 2019, the majority being from two energy companies. One is Trident Exploration, which ceased operation in May. The other is still in operation and therefore cannot be named.
Govenlock agreed with Kluin.
"We established these committees for a reason. For administration to walk in and say these are the changes underminds these committees," he said. "[During the organizational meeting] we talked about the value of the comments from the public members at large and their perspectives is a valuable component."
Kluin also added he wasn't sure all the groups could absorb the proposed changes to the funding model, suggesting for the Fort Assiniboine Agricultural Society it could amount upwards of $30,000.
"These guys have done everything they could in the last year to cut the bills, but there is only so much you can cut before you say the hell with it and give up," he said.
As part of the RFD provided comparisons on how neighbouring counties and municipal districts provided funding to community groups providing recreation and cultural services. By and large, Woodlands County funded its community organizations at a much higher level.