COLUMN: Go fund yourselves first

by Phillip Blancher

SOUTH DUNDAS — Spring is slowly inching away closer to being a reality. There are fewer days of the winter season than more. The days are getting longer, and that means it’s budget season for municipalities all over Ontario. Part of any budget season are the annual “Oliver Twist” requests by community arts groups to council “please sir, may I have some more?”

Any request to any council should be met with very stringent qualifications, first and foremost of those qualifications is, go fund yourself first. Has the group tried to cover their operational costs themselves via fundraising or other sources? Is their funding request for a specific project or program, or is it for operations? Have they a valid business case for the support they are asking for? Are they habitual users of funding from the municipality? What is the group’s mandate and who is involved? Finally, what is the cost benefit analysis for the municipality and the community?

There are far too many groups that do not meet these qualifications or tests. Groups like these use municipal funds to support operational costs year after year, which is flat out wrong. If a group cannot make a year-over-year effort to fund raise to cover their own costs, then no hand out should be given as they are clearly unable to make a go of it.

If a request is for a specific program or project, then the group needs to be clear as to what that is, and live up to it. Timelines, commitments and a plan to return moneys if unsuccessful in meeting their timeline. There should be a limit on how many years in a row a group can ask for funding from a municipality as well.

All groups need to provide a business case for what is being asked. They should have a board that is stable. Stable does not mean devoid of usual board or internal politics. But if a group of characters is airing their members’ laundry in public, perhaps they should be turned down for the year and invited back when their internal issues are resolved. Taxpayers money should not fund continuations of problems as that leads to waste.

Groups asking for money should ensure their project or program fits within the municipality and is appealing or in need in the community. Funding organizations who’s goal is to promote an idea without substance, or find sources of funding just to justify a job for someone should leave their requests at home.

Finally, for every request for funding, the municipality needs to take a look at what the benefit is for the area. If so, what is that funding going to take away from somewhere else?

For example in Cornwall, Your Arts Council (YAC) is looking for $35,000 for 2015. $35,000 could also be used to repair several meters of sidewalk, or put in a kilometer of gravel walking paths in a part, or replace playground equipment in a city park. Is funding YAC a better value for the residents of Cornwall than more putting in more walkways, or replacing deteriorating sidewalks, or replacing dilapidated playground equipment? This writer knows what his answer would be.

Arts groups, or any group for that matter, going to council needs to be mindful that the funding trough is not there for permanent, year-after-year funding. That it is funded by municipal taxpayers and as such, anything funded should provide the maximum benefit for the most number of people in the municipalities. Fringe groups that can’t get their house in order, and can’t be financially viable without constant funding from government, need not apply.

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