COLUMN: Groups must account for all tax dollars spent

It is budget season in Cornwall and the municipalities in Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry. Municipal budgets are the government budgets we pay the least amount of attention to. Front-line community services are funded through municipal taxation. Everything from emergency services to social services, roads and snow removal, to recreation programs. It has the biggest impact on our communities. A key component of those budgets are funds that go to groups outside of government which provide some services to the community.

Each year groups come cap-in-hand for funding and all believe they have laudable goals for that funding. When deciding on what groups to fund, there are two questions that need answering. Is what the group proposed workable, filling a need? And is the group, or will the group, be accountable for the money they receive?

In South Dundas, the municipality has been working with the South Dundas Chamber of Commerce to have the chamber operate and promote tourism services including the two information centers in the summer. One in Morrisburg, the other in Iroquois. The amount the chamber of commerce is looking for is approximately $11,000. The chamber is a lobbying group, a group that promotes the interests of their member businesses. Having a group like this run tourism, which is suppose to showcase the entire municipality, makes no good sense.

Then there is the matter of accountability. The chamber still has not, according to council reports, submitted a final account of the 2015 Renegade Bass Tournament sponsorship. Council asked for this report months ago. While the sponsorship was a smaller amount than what is being asked for now, it does not matter. This was tax money spent and the taxpayers should have this information. There is no reason the municipality cannot operate this themselves, and until the chamber provides an account of the bass tournament, they should not be considered to do so.

If you look at outside grants and funding in Cornwall, any group that receives money from the taxpayer must provide an interim statement six months into the year. This is the only way that they can be eligible for the following budget year.

When looking at Cornwall’s outside grant asks, a few flags should be raised. While the Rachel’s Kids Development Fund ($350,000) has a laudable goal for supporting those with Autism and ADHD, this is the single largest ask, and would take too much out of the budget ($525,000) from others. Kids on the spectrum need ABA and IBI support wait-list times to shrink, which is a provincial funding matter.

It does not matter what group asks for funding, money should always go to groups that help the greatest number of people in the community. A priority should be to groups like the Agape Center ($60,000) and Counselling and Support Services of SD&G. ($27,000). Arts and culture groups should have the lowest priority.  Funding the two groups mentioned would be $10,000 less than funding Aultsville Theater ($97,000). Which group(s) provide the greater benefit to the community?

Tourism and promotion groups like Cornwall & The Counties Tourism ($181,144) aim to bring more people to the region, and should be funded to do so. But not at the full amount. Businesses that receive a direct benefit from the work the group does should pick up more of the burden for funding. Same with groups like the SD&G Historical Society and their operation of Cornwall’s museum. More effort needs to be made to have the stakeholders foot some of the bill, not the taxpayer.

Arts and culture groups should only be funded when everyone else is. They represent niche sectors of the community which often do not have a solid business case to support their operation. If they cannot survive without a handout from government, then maybe they should not.

In the case of Aultsville Theater, it has been stated for a decade that the theater will not survive unless there are upgrades or such. The theater has received money from other levels of government to improve lighting and sound equipment, yet the theater needs $500,000 in upgrades. It has become the never-ending black hole of funding. Perhaps it is time for council to say enough is enough.

When it comes to any group requesting funding from the taxpayer, they must account for every nickel and dime spent. It is not their money, it’s ours.