By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — What’s $16,900 in a budget of more than $7.6 million? Not much, not even one percent. But for many Neepawa organizations, it’s a lot.
Last week, the town of Neepawa unveiled its preliminary budget and among the road repairs and transfers to reserve funds, were cuts to a number of grants distributed to local organizations. In 2015, the town gave out 22 grants totalling $133,795.95. In 2016, the budget proposes $116,895.95 in grants to 15 organizations.
Some of the cuts make sense. For example, last year, the town budgeted to spend $5,000 on the Land of Plenty Celebration, which didn’t end up being held and isn’t planned for this year. But most of the cuts were to organizations and events that continue to exist within the community. Most of the organizations have lost $200 here or $500 there, but some of the cuts have been significant. The Viscount Cultural Centre found their grant cut to $5,000, from $10,000. Last year’s grant of $10,000 represented a loss from the year before, when the town’s grant totalled $12,000. The Neepawa Natives saw their operating grant of $5,000 gone.
The result has been a lot of angry citizens, especially those who volunteer with these organizations which are now suddenly finding themselves with holes in their budgets.
We can understand the need for reform. Neepawa’s mayor Adrian de Groot was quoted in last week’s Banner saying, “There was more than a perception, it was a bit of a reality where the requests were basically ‘You ask, we give’, in a sense. So, we started to change that last year.” De Groot also said that they looked at whether other communities fund or own certain types of facilities, in making their decisions.
There is a popular line of thinking, that municipal governments should repair the streets and provide water and pick up garbage and nothing else. There’s nothing wrong with that and in reality, the town collecting taxes to then distribute money back to organizations isn’t the most efficient use of resources.
I can understand that the town wants to get out of funding the ongoing operations of various organizations.
People can understand the logic behind the change.
Town council is well within their mandate to cut back on the grants they give, but more communication or a clearly communicated timeline could have saved a lot of ill will over a very small portion of the town’s budget. Some groups felt blindsided by the cuts and that the town didn’t do a good job communicating their priorities in grant distribution.
With the loss of the United Way in Neepawa, and nothing yet established to replace it, the grant cuts come at a hard time for many organizations that rely on donations to keep their doors open and their programs running.
Maybe council has a strategy when it comes to municipal grants, but if they do, it hasn’t been clearly communicated to applicants and the general public. Most of these grants fund operations, the organizations can’t just defer a purchase to make up for the short fall. But knowing that they had one year, or two years, or three years to find their own source of operating money, organizations could have planned and prepared.
I can understand the town not wanting to pick and choose the winners, since even the 22 organizations that received funding represent only a portion of the groups operating within the town. But the the problem is, where do you draw the line? How do you develop an equitable system for all? The town appears to now more actively be choosing the winners and losers.
These organizations play a vital part in making Neepawa a vibrant town in which people want to live. Their continued success is the continued success of our community.