Some St. Albert non-profits say the reduction in operating grants the city is currently eyeing could prevent them from keeping the lights on.
Council members discussed a 50-per-cent reduction to St. Albert's outside agency operating grant program during an Aug. 16 committee meeting. The reduction would be phased in over three years. Following both private and public feedback sessions with council, city administration is scheduled to present the 2023 draft budget at an upcoming Oct. 24 meeting.
Currently, the city allocates some $600,000 in outside agency operating grants to help fund staff positions and facility operating costs for non-profits offering recreation, culture, and social support services.
Allocation of the funding is determined through an application process and deliberation by council’s Community Services Advisory Committee (CSAC), with CSAC recommendations requiring council's ultimate approval.
In 2022, the city distributed $219,285 in outside agency funding to the St. Albert Seniors Association, $110,675 to the St. Albert Community Village and Food Bank, $66,515 to St. Albert Victim Services, and $44,650 to the St. Albert Housing Society.
Smaller grants given out included: $30,303 to the St. Albert and District Further Education, $27,685 to the Visual Arts Studio Association, $21,415 to Kaleo Collective, $21,400 to Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society, $19,155 to the St. Albert Family Resource Centre, $16,290 to the Outloud Foundation for LGBTQ Community Supports and Services, $9,697 to Michif Cultural Connections Ltd, and $7,668 to the St. Albert Bereavement Fellowship.
SAIF later received a top up when council voted to supply the organization with its full requested outside agencies funding amount of $42,800.
Loss of funds concerning: non-profits
Faye Tkachuk, president of the St. Albert Bereavement Fellowship — a non-profit volunteer society working to provide support to those who have lost a loved one — said a reduction to funding could mean the fellowship is no longer able to operate.
“Without these funds we’re gone,” Tkachuk said. “It’s a desperate need for us as a small non-profit society.”
Raising money through casinos isn’t an option for the fellowship, Tkachuk said, because those they are helping are often grieving, a state of mind that doesn't lend well to fundraising efforts.
While the board are all volunteers, Tkachuk said the fellowship also brings on contractors to help out with webmaster duties and facilitating sessions such as those to learn coping skills.
While their work has continued for the past 35 years, Tkachuk said she is worried about the future while resources continue to wane.
“Everybody’s fighting for the same pocket [of money],” Tkachuk said. “If … grants can’t be supplied to us as community groups, non-profits are going to be in a bit of a crisis, and I think some of us may have to close our doors,”
Miles Constable, present of the Visual Arts Studio Association of St. Albert (VASA), said if VASA had a reduction in its funding, it would “be really hard to keep the doors open.”
Because VASA rents a city-owned building, VASA shutting down would mean the city would then potentially have to pay to maintain an empty building, he said.
“Then what have they saved?” Constable said. “You’re back down to cutting your nose off to spite your face.”
VASA is not a charity, so they are unable to run fundraising through casinos. Asked what avenues VASA might explore should funding be cut, he said they have the capacity to raise money through 50/50 raffles, but likely wouldn’t raise enough.
“If we doubled all the rent for the people renting our studios, we might make up that shortfall, but then would we lose most of the artists who are renting?” Constable asked.
Areni Kelleppan, executive director for Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society, said SAIF has anticipated a reduction in city grants, and planned for the future through long-term strategies such as budgeting for a contingency fund and cutting the organization's own budget over the years.
While SAIF feels prepared to weather the grant reductions, Kelleppan noted a 50-per-cent reduction is still “considerable … at a time when our services have been needed more than ever.”
She noted city council is “caught between a rock and a hard place,” as expenses keep adding up, but the city has a limited amount of revenue it can collect.
“Residents expect a service level … and so they have to maintain a certain service level, but no one wants to pay more,” Kelleppan said. “How do you make that happen?”
Safety nets important to consider: Kelleppan
Kelleppan said going forward, council and members of the public will need to prioritize what services they want in the community.
“We all have to do a bit of soul searching as residents of St. Albert and think about what is important to us, what is preventative in ensuring that our community stays the vibrant and safe place that we want to come home,” Kelleppan said.
She noted the library is also facing cuts; council is considering a $1.5-million reduction to library funding over the next three years (the current annual grant is $4.6 million).
Kelleppan said the library is “innocuous” and therefore can act as a safe haven for those who might be tracked by abusive partners.
“There are these safety nets in our community, and I think that we as residents have to think about whether we want those safety nets for the people that need them,” Kelleppan said.
Council members divided on funding reduction
During the Aug. 16 meeting, Coun. Ken MacKay voiced apprehension about the cuts.
“Every one of these outside agencies is feeling the pinch horrifically right now,” he said. “You talk about unintended consequences, wow.”
Similarly, Coun. Sheena Hughes also voiced opposition to the cuts, saying that at the very least they must be delayed until 2024.
“Sometimes you can’t lose weight by chopping off your leg,” Hughes said, noting the funding needs of the agencies is already far above the amount the city has available to grant them.
Coun. Natalie Joly said by reducing the grant, the city will “bring these partners to the table" to predict residents from a lofty tax increase.
“Reductions in funding force groups to think creatively about how they can continue to serve people in the best way,” Joly said. “It might not be through their organization, and that’s okay."
Coun. Wes Brodhead noted the vote on whether to cut will be determined in November, but that it needs to at least be put up for consideration.
Diane McMordie, the city’s interim assistant deputy chief administrative officer (internal), said the split of council members weighing in on either side would produce a “pretty good debate” come budget time.