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Westlock County passes new community grants program

Application process now open; grants to be handed out quarterly

WESTLOCK – Westlock County councillors have approved a new, all-encompassing community grants policy for the municipality that administration says should allow more groups to “easily access” the roughly $120K in funds remaining for this year.

At their March 14 meeting, councillors approved the 10-page Policy 7300-001 - Community, Facility, Recreation, and Tourism Grant Program, while rescinding the old policy, 6.15, that had previously been in place and “needed an update” — the document was last in front of councillors at their Feb. 21 committee of the whole meeting (COW) where following 30-plus minutes of debate they directed administration to make additional changes to the amounts, allocations, and number of categories.

Ultimately, the program is meant to “provide occasional grant funding” to county groups to “assist in developing and enhancing community facilities and events, sport, and tourism programming.” Part of the new policy includes a community grant advisory committee that will approve the funding and includes councillors Francis Cloutier, Stuart Fox-Robinson and Jared Stitsen, along with three county staffers — adding a public member to the group was contemplated, but ultimately rejected.

In her briefing to councillors, community services coordinator Adrienne Finnegan noted the number of categories in the final draft was reduced from 12 to 10, three of which administration will be responsible for based on the dollar amounts. Grant funding categories include: development incentive, community event incentive, major community/tourism event, equipment, leadership, gravel, project, capital, operating and small funding. Funds available start at $200 and go up to $10,000 — the ‘small funding grant’ specifically notes a “condensed application process” for requests under $500.

“I think this is a vast improvement and kudos to you Ms. Finnegan, I think you’ve done a great job on this,” said Fox-Robinson March 14, while noting Feb. 21: “Council asked for this, to be very clear, and I think what we’ve got (now) is really, really good.”

“I think a lot of this we’re doing already, but it’s just broken out nicer and we’re able to see things a little clearer,” added Stitsen during debate Feb. 21. “I think it’s going to be easier for (community groups) to navigate through.”

For the most part, applicants must either be an “individual endorsed by” a registered non-profit society or organization within the county, the group itself, an organizing committee under the auspices of an affiliate or sponsoring not-for-profit society, while ‘regional teams’ may be considered for dollars. Applicants from outside the county will be considered for the development incentive, community event incentive and major community/tourism event grants as “administration felt that these would possibly be the grant opportunities being applied for by organizations located outside county boundaries.”

Groups, successful or not, will be contacted within 60 days of the closing of the quarterly grant windows which are slated for the last Fridays in March, May, August and September — with no grant requests currently in the stream, the first deadline for 2023 will be the end of May.

“Notifications for them are huge,” added reeve Christine Wiese, who called the new policy “ … a lot better than where we were at before.”

Nuts and bolts

Annually during the fall budget process, council decides the maximum amount available for the grants and in a follow-up e-mail, CAO Tony Kulbisky said for 2023, $165,000 has been allocated while $45,250 in grants has been approved.

“Left is $119,750, minus funds committed to Jarvie in the amount of $19,482, if their CFEP (Community Facility Enhancement Program) is approved,” he said, adding that as of March 16 he was unaware on its status.

The policy notes that at its discretion, “council may decide not to allocate the total funds available to the grants” for that year and “if all funds are not allocated, council shall determine during the budget process at the end of the year whether to restrict the funds or allow them to enter general surplus.”

Council also has the discretion to provide “additional funding” for any of the grants under this policy in excess of what was originally budgeted, while the grant advisory committee shall endeavour to recommend disbursement of “not more than 25 per cent of allocated annual grant funds during each calendar quarter” — if they do, they’ll have to tell council why.

Council also “reserves the right” to direct the advisory committee to portion the grant dollars available between the grants in a particular way depending on the priorities of council for the upcoming fiscal year.

Grants will be handed out using 10 criteria that include: new initiatives, program quality, community need, services and supplies, financial need, target audience and membership, quantity and quality of impact on the community, availability of grant funds and an executed application form, while organizations seeking funding from multiple sources shall be “considered favourably.”

George Blais,

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