Monday, February 26, 2018

MD Council backs community grant writer initiative

Jonathan Skrimshire - Council for the Municipal District of Pincher Creek approved $20,000 in startup funding for the community grant writer initiative at their Council meeting of February 13. The sum, which is to be drawn from the MD's mill rate stabilization reserve, will be provided to the Grant Writer Task Group as partial funding toward the first year salary of a proposed three year contract hire. Council also recommended that the group make application through the Joint Council funding process for funding of years two and three of the initiative.

Council's decision follows a concerted lobbying effort on the part of the Grant Writer Task Group. Both local Councils received presentations from the group in January. Council for the Town of Pincher Creek has formally expressed support in principle for the initiative but has yet to make a funding commitment.

Council receives Grant Writer Task Group presentation

Council received a presentation from Grant Writer Task Group member Claren Copp-Larocque at their Council meeting of January 9. Copp-Larocque set out the basics of the group's proposal to hire a community grant writer who would assist the Town, MD, and community organizations in the preparation of grant applications. "A community grant writer can bring in substantial funds [and is able to] leverage existing funds", she said. "There are six municipalities or towns in Alberta that have community grant writers right now. And they've been very successful."

Copp-Larocque emphasized the difficulties many local organizations face in preparing grant applications and the advantages of having this service provided by an experienced individual. "Most community service organizations do not have the resources, do not have the time. They are run by volunteers", she said. "Writing grants is a huge demand on the time of the local talent that we have in the community [...] To have this taken off our plates would be huge. It would be a game changer."

Copp-Larocque explained the group's ideas around funding and administration of the proposed position - ideas which have evolved significantly in the intervening weeks - and requested that Council participate with them in the process. "What we're asking is for you to join us at the negotiating table so that we can create a position that everybody is comfortable with [...] and that everybody can support", she said.

Council gets a double dose

Council received a follow-up presentation from Grant Writer Task Group member Page Murphy at their Council meeting of January 23. Her presentation made it clear that the group was moving rapidly and with purpose.

"We've been very busy and very successful", said Murphy, in reference to the two weeks since Copp-Larocque's appearance at the podium, reciting the names of roughly twenty organizations that had written letters of support for the grant writer initiative, including FCSS, the library, Allied Arts Council, and the Pincher Creek and District Chamber of Commerce. "Our Task Group has secured $15,000 in financial contributions from our community organizations. We have that confirmed and ready to go", she said. "We are developing a business plan, a draft contract and a plan for oversight of the contracted party [...] We also have an agency to host this position [...] as well as the administrative structure in place [...] We would like to invite you to contribute to the conversation and to continue to consider and discuss making a financial contribution."

Council engaged in a short exchange with Murphy following her presentation. "How much money were you expecting from the MD?", asked Councillor Terry Yagos. "We have asked for twenty thousand dollars from the Town and twenty thousand from the MD", Murphy replied. "What's the benefit to you as a governing body? This grant writer would be available to provide services to you as well. A certain chunk of time would be set aside to be solely dedicated to the MD"

Yagos wondered whether providing training for local organizations and volunteers might be a viable alternative to a full-time hire. "Is there value in having a course on grant writing?", he asked. Murphy felt that this could be part of the grant writer's mandate. "We see this position as providing not only the grant writer's services [...] but also in offering workshops and seminars and one-on-one consultation services to these community organizations so that they can also continue to build their own capacity", she replied.

"How long of a contract do we have to be tied into?", asked Yagos. "We would like to see a solid three-year commitment", Murphy replied.

Councillor Brian Hammond wanted clarification of funding requirements for years two and three. "What do you expect would be the request the next time the Joint Council funding process comes around?", he asked. "Next year we would like to approach Joint Council for the twenty [thousand] and twenty [thousand] from both the Town and MD", Murphy replied.

"Is there any reason why your request couldn't be deferred to that process? [...] What is the urgency you perceive?", Hammond asked. "Could it wait? It could", said Murphy. "But why? Why wait a year when we have the potential and the opportunity right now in front of us to take action and be pro-active about this?"

MD Committee discusses funding

Council discussed the group's funding request during their morning committee meeting of February 13. Director of Finance Janene Felker addressed the issue as part of a broader presentation on items not included in the current budget. "There is nothing in the 2018 budget that would allow for a $20,000 contribution towards the community grant writer position", she said. Felker explained that the immediate funding request could be met by amending the 2018 budget or withdrawing the sum from the mill rate stabilization reserve.

Councillor Bev Everts was supportive of the grant writer initiative and favoured allocating the funds. "We are the only organization that has not indicated our support of this particular project [...] I've heard tremendous support throughout the entire municipality for this project, and it seems like it's a project that can only provide advantageous opportunities to many, many organizations. There isn't an organization that hasn't supported it - Castle Mountain Community Association, Beaver Mines Community Association, all of the different sports organizations, all the cultural organizations - how can we not?"

Hammond was not supportive of revisiting the 2018 budget. "It seems as though we set a strategy for what we want to allocate tax revenues for, and then we have a continuous stream of people coming through the door asking for more money. Well, there isn't an endless supply of 'more money'. It doesn't matter what it's for, particularly. It may be of benefit, as perceived by significant numbers of people in the community, but everybody has to share that burden."

Councillor Rick Lemire was aligned with Everts on the issue. "I support the grant writer [initiative]. I think there's a lot of good to the community [...] I don't think twenty thousand dollars is going to make or break us [...] There are ways and means that we can make this work by tightening our own belt to try to find this", he said. "People that I see on the street have said 'that's a good deal' [...] It's not a whole bunch of money, and I think we could cut it ourselves [...] We could find that somewhere to make that contribution."

Yagos wasn't overtly opposed to providing startup funding, but felt the group's proposal warranted a more careful examination. "Yes, it's only twenty thousand dollars. We could consider how we could do it, but we have to look very carefully at it. Maybe we don't have to [commit to] three years. Maybe we could see how it's going to work", he said. "It's not that I am opposed to it, but I have talked to some other groups who say 'Oh, writing grants is easy. We don't really need this.' But it sounds like a really good idea to everybody, like 'Hey, here's some money you don't have to work for'".

Hammond wasn't comfortable with attempts to downplay the sums involved and suggested any funding of the grant writer initiative be considered a contribution in kind when considering funding requests from other community organizations. "It's twenty thousand this year, twenty thousand next year, and twenty thousand the third year - matched by our neighbours. Those are significant dollars", he said. "I think if it's such a great thing in terms of how it would contribute to the future success of organizations and groups, then maybe that needs to be part of the allocation that's given to those groups to support them."

Council addresses the funding request

Discussion of the issue resumed in the afternoon regular Council meeting. Everts reiterated her support for the initiative. "They're not looking for a lot of money. They're looking for twenty thousand dollars", she said. "As I understand it, this Council is the last holdout. If we choose not to support this project, it's in jeopardy."

Lemire concurred. "I'm in agreement with Bev [Everts] on this", he said. "I think it's a worthwhile cause [...] I think it's money well spent."

Yagos wasn't comfortable with the idea of a long-term funding commitment. "Maybe we could just go in for one year. Why do we have to go in for all three years? We'll see what the results are", he said. He also remained unconvinced of the need for a full time hire. "We could have an in-service deal where we train people how to write grants. It's not magic", he said. "I don't know if we need a grant writer at all. I think an in-service deal, teaching people how to write grants [...] could work just as well."

Hammond felt the funding request should be deferred to the joint funding process. "Our two Councils have an annual process that we go through to recognize the value of organizations in our community. And we ask for submissions from those groups", he said. "Why can't we use that process to make an allocation to the grant writer proposal? [...] That the grant writing proposal be in the same competitive environment as all the other organizations who seek support for their own activities?"

Everts proposed a compromise position. "My suggestion [...] is that we look at it for one year, and, in respect of what I heard Councillor Hammond say, perhaps we could then look at Joint Funding for year 2019, year 2020."

Lemire concurred. "I agree with what Councillor Everts has come up with, where we kind of put our feet in the water for one year and see how successful it is."

Hammond continued to question the urgency of the issue. "Sometimes it's useful to let the pot stew a bit before you make a decision", he said, again suggesting that the matter be deferred to the fall joint funding session. "I like the idea of Joint Council funding. It is already an existing mechanism that's a way in which we can work together with our neighbours. We get in a room together and we talk about why groups and organizations are important in our community. And if we find that this [grant writer initiative] is going to facilitate that, that needs to be a part of that process."

"Sometimes you need to seize the moment", said Everts. "And right now, with the energy in the community for this project, it is the moment. [...] The energy behind this project is phenomenal. So for us to sit here and not hear that - I find that difficult. [...] Last year [...] we spent twenty thousand dollars on office furniture that wasn't in the budget. We had enough money to be able to do that. I just can't understand why we can't, with the energy and the community speaking so loudly and so supportive of this, why we can't come up with twenty thousand dollars [...] They're going to generate far more than the twenty thousand dollars. That's the whole idea."

Council's discussion of the issue concluded with the passage of a motion committing $20,000 in first year funding, to be drawn from the mill rate stabilization reserve. The motion also contained a recommendation that the Grant Writer Task Group make application through the Joint Council funding process for funding of years two and three of the initiative.

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