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Council slashes funding for Housing Society, commits to new positions for food bank and volunteer centre

City council slashed 2016 grants for the St. Albert Housing Society by $10,000 on Thursday evening but committed to two positions for the food fank and the Community Volunteer and Information Centre.

Coun. Cam MacKay motioned for the cut to the housing society’s budget, arguing the organization “has to move to self-sustainability at some point.”

The society, through partnerships with other agencies, provides housing and supportive services for people in need, including single-parent families and seniors living at or below the poverty line.

Council had provided it with funding anywhere from $90,000 to $110,000 in recent years but that was always supposed to be a temporary measure, said MacKay.

He said the society now owns 17 affordable housing units that it rents out and it has also become more successful at fundraising.

The majority of council sided with MacKay on his motion.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said there is always more need for affordable housing than there is supply and there are several organizations in the city trying to address this problem.

But the city has limited funds available and needs to spend carefully, he said.

“I think we need to say to the St. Albert Housing Society ‘you need to come to the table with a solid business case moving forward to address the need in the community,'” he said.

“It’s a good message to all of the agencies in the community that we need to see good value.”

Council ended up voting in favour of the motion, with only Coun. Tim Osborne and Mayor Nolan Crouse opposed.

Osborne agreed with Brodhead about the business case but he did not want to be springing a cut onto the society now.

“I have a little bit of uneasiness with this,” he said.

Crouse agreed with Osborne, adding that that council met with the society six months ago and “this wasn’t the conversation at the time.”

In total, the Housing Society was granted $102,090 from the city for 2016.

Council also voted to commit $172,294 to the 50+ Club, and to give $29,500 to Victim Services.

Another $10,000 was budgeted for the Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute but the money will only get handed out based on a council-approved plan in 2016.

Funding for volunteer co-ordinator and food bank position

Council also discussed extra funding for a bookkeeper position with the food bank and a volunteer co-ordinator position with the Community Information and Volunteer Centre.

Coun. Sheena Hughes was the one to motion for $22,250 for the volunteer co-ordinator position.

“It’s a very small amount of money,” she said, adding that the position is beyond just handing out information about volunteer options in the community.

“It’s about encouragement.”

Council supported the motion, with Coun. Cathy Heron voting against it.

She said there are lots of other ways “to get information on how you can volunteer.”

She also suggested the city work with the centre next year on how it can best restructure its services.

Coun. Tim Osborne supported the motion but added that council must be careful that it does not constantly pick up “the slack of dropped provincial and federal funding.”

In total, the Community Volunteer and Information Centre will now receive $50,377 from the 2016 budget.

Council also supported the request for the bookkeeper position for the food bank but voted to give $29,000 instead of $40,000, as originally requested.

MacKay proposed to cut the amount after the food bank sent an email to council explaining it needed about $29,000 to pay for the position, training and supervision, with the remaining $10,000 to cover overhead costs.

The food bank already rents for $1 a year and does not pay for utilities, he said.

“I am sure they can still deliver this program with $29,000,” he said.

In total, the food bank will receive $72,602 from the 2016 budget.

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