“My big concern is repeatedly approving a $100,000 grant for an organization that can pay for their own operating expenses.” – Councillor Natalie Joly
It is amazing how a few new voices on St. Albert City Council can bring reality back to what have often been routine decisions. Nothing is harder, especially for a new councillor, than to turn down or even delay the request for approval of grants from the many needy community organizations.
It was refreshing to see newly-elected councillor Natalie Joly challenge the request from the St. Albert Housing Society for a 10 per cent increase in their operating grant.
Joly has not proposed to kill the grant but rather for council to determine if it wants “to support the housing societies method of growing affordable housing in St. Albert.” It only makes sense for council to be supportive of the aims and objectives of the organizations it supports. Hence a memorandum of understanding between the City and the Housing Society is a must if funds are to be assigned for their use. Council has now agreed to provide reduced funding for next year but presumably will have a hard look at the issue later when they examine the MOU.
There is no question that the Housing Society is playing a valuable role in providing affordable housing to many families. Housing has been a concern in St. Albert for as long as I can remember. In the years when St. Albert was truly a bedroom community to Edmonton there was always the concern that our youth couldn’t afford to live here and were attracted to a more hip lifestyle in the bigger city. Similarly with seniors and single parents on limited incomes. St. Albert housing and taxes have always been at the upper end of costs in the capital region. On the other hand the amenities for young families and seniors have been a strong drawing card.
The bigger question that has been raised by Joly’s motion however, is not with the Housing Society per se, but with all funding for special interest groups. Council has many expenditures to deal with and they need to be comfortable that the funds granted to each of these groups is in line with the objectives of Council.
On an even larger issue, it is important for all councillors to challenge all requests for funding; especially older existing programs that may have outlived their usefulness and continue to be funded because nobody has ever questioned whether they continue to meet their original objective.
A regular review of the mandates of every community group that relies on funding, from the city budget is indeed a breath of fresh air.
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.