City council approved more than $6 million in funding to outside agencies during a recent budget debate.
The grant money going to St. Albert’s municipally funded outside agencies was approved mostly unchanged from a committee recommendation.
On Nov. 24 council approved all the funding requests as outlined by the Community Services Advisory Board, as well as the annual operating grants to the library and the Arts & Heritage Foundation.
When the final draft of the budget goes before council Dec. 12, it will include $509,391 for eight outside agencies like victim services, the food bank and the housing society.
Although councillors sought little change from what the board recommended, council approved Coun. Tim Osborne’s motion to give the St. Albert Housing Society the same grant it received last year, $102,090, rather than the $92,090 the board had recommended.
He explained that although the city is currently working on a memorandum of understanding with the society to establish its mandate and operations into the future, council should not presuppose the result of that discussion.
“Cutting their budget ahead of that conversation to me, doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate time to do that,” he said.
Council supported the motion by a 5-2 vote, with councillors Wes Brodhead and Cathy Heron opposed.
Brodhead explained the provincial government is moving to have local housing foundations – the Sturgeon Foundation in St. Albert’s case – take on responsibility for affordable housing. He argued funding another local organization to take on that role is essentially the city paying for a provincial responsibility.
Coun. Cam MacKay said he would support this motion, as long as it’s clear the status quo can’t continue.
“There’s not enough value that’s provided for the money that’s going to this organization,” he said.
Council approved the Arts & Heritage Foundation’s $1.6 million operating grant request without debate. Council defeated a motion to cut the library’s $4.1 million request by $109,200.
MacKay, who proposed that motion, explained the figure represents the amount of money the library collected in fees last year. He said he was opposed to the library’s plan to provide free cards to residents in 2017.
“I do agree we should be moving towards a fee-free library,” he said. “Not at this time, I guess, would be the counterpoint I’ve been weighing in my head.”
Mayor Nolan Crouse was the only other council member to support his motion, which was ultimately defeated 5-2. He explained while he doesn’t support a fee-free structure, the library board could move in that direction regardless of how much the city funds.
Other councillors who voted against the reduced funding nonetheless expressed concern about where the money would come from, and suggested the library should work to find additional efficiencies and do more fundraising.
“I would sooner leave the ($109,200) there, but encourage them to work towards a system where they have fundraising programs they can get underway in 2018,” Coun. Bob Russell said.
At a presentation Nov. 10, library board chair Charmaine Brooks announced the board would offer free cards in 2017, as 80 per cent of library users in the province already get free cards, including most in the Edmonton area.
The final draft of the city’s 2017 budget is expected to go to council for approval Dec. 12.