Watchdogs want CVRD to puncture ballooning grants handouts

The Cowichan Sportsplex is perhaps the most prominent example of what some critics consider a misuse of CVRD of grants-in-aid funding. -
The Cowichan Sportsplex is perhaps the most prominent example of what some critics consider a misuse of CVRD of grants-in-aid funding.
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Regional handouts to community groups have swollen from $100,00 to nearly $500,000 in just three years at the CVRD board table.

Adding in electoral area and other grant functions, the CVRD’s total grants-in-aid budget for the current year is $1,157,241.

Directors have already committed to an additional $488,000 grant to the E&N rail line and are considering other new requests in the year to come.

And at least one community group wants this trend to stop.

The Community Together Group is concerned grants-in-aid — primarily created to give assistance to community groups for one-time projects and events — are handed out too easily and have morphed into a source of regular annual funding.

Originally formed to battle the South Cowichan ECO Depot, the CT Group presented its concerns to the CVRD board Wednesday.

“When individual requests for a grant are made, often they sound reasonable and affordable. However, when the grants are aggregated then the full cost becomes clear,” group spokesperson Joseph Gollner states.

“Most grant recipients do contribute to the community. However, no function deserves public funding in perpetuity. Saying ‘no’ on occasion has merit.”

The group’s concerns centre on the CVRD’s practice of giving some groups grants year after year, multiple grants in the same year, or grants to groups already getting dedicated tax dollars — practices that seem contrary to CVRD policy.

In addition to cracking down on the practice of repeating “one-off” grants multiple times, it would like the CVRD to implement a three-year “sunset clause” on “functional grants” — those grants that become part of the annual budget.

CVRD chairman Rob Hutchins says the board is already addressing many of the CT Group’s concerns. Last summer, treasurer Mark Kueber introduced a process that requires functional grant recipients to demonstrate their need prior to any funds being released.

Hutchins pointed out functional grants must be approved by the public through referendum or AAP. But he also said, starting this year, the regional district will be more vigilant about using the “up-to” clause, meaning recipients of these grants may not be receiving the maximum amount called for, or anything at all.

As for repeated one-off grants, he said the board typically attempts to transform these into functional grants but sometimes gets bogged down in the politics of making that happen. Multiple $100,000 yearly grants to the Cowichan Sportsplex is the most prominent example.

But what about the underlying question: does the CVRD spend too much money on grants?

“We spend a lot of time considering each and every grant, and I don’t believe we do, if you take a look at the dividends in the community.”

Hutchins said grant cuts by higher government have increased demand and added seed money provided by the CVRD typically provides a community a return many times that of the investment.

He said Gollner’s input will be considered, but it is likely directors will want to see how the changes proposed by Kueber play out first.

“The policy will be reviewed. Personally, I’d like to see the outcome before I will entertain a sunset clause.

“And by the way, we do say ‘no.’”

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