Town to budget less for community organizations in 2013

 

By Ron Giofu

Amherstburg town council has decided to give out fewer grant dollars this year as compared to 2012 as council held the line with some groups and rejected others.

Town council awarded $29,150 to eight community groups during a budget session held at town hall last Thursday afternoon. Three other grant requests were turned down. Town council had been faced with $97,150 in grant requests as they entered deliberations.

There were 11 successful grant requests in 2012, totalling $35,400. One of those was a $1,200 request from the Amherstburg Farmers Market, which was already incorporated into the budget this year rather than as a separate grant request.

The largest of the grant requests for 2013, including $30,000 for First Baptist Church renovations and a request of $28,000 to cover the cost of salary and benefits for the Park House curator position, were two of the requests that were turned down.

Abi Afolabi represented First Baptist Church and outlined the issues the historic church is facing. She noted problems with the floor, including rotting beams from the flooding that had occurred at the site. While in-kind services have been donated and other work done themselves, she told council more assistance is needed to further repair the building.

Mayor Wayne Hurst told Afolabi the request did not fall under the umbrella of budget deliberations and could not be honored.

“We might as well be upfront and say we can’t give you a positive response as it relates to taxpayers’ dollars,” said Hurst. “We can’t use taxpayers’ dollars to do renovations on a church. You just can’t do it. It’s unfortunate but that’s not what this legislative body does.”

Hurst compared the situation at First Baptist Church to that of the Bellevue house and the steeple restoration campaign at St. John the Baptist Church, noting the town has not given financial aid to perform any restorations at those sites.

Town Logo Small-web  Councillor John Sutton suggested the church be in contact with Essex MP Jeff Watson and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak if they haven’t been already.

“We do want to support the church but with tax dollars we’re limited to what we can and can’t do,” said Sutton.

Councillor Diane Pouget said that showing how the church’s congregation has helped thus far would assist in grant applications with upper levels of government and suggested having tours so potential donors could see the inside of the church.   Councillor Bob Pillon added council understands the plight of the church but it would “upset the apple cart” if council opened the door to such grant requests.

“It doesn’t fall into our realm to give you money,” stated Councillor Bart DiPasquale, “otherwise churches would be lined up whether they are historic or not.”

While the town turned down the Park House’s request to have the curator’s salary and benefits paid for by the municipality, the community museum will get the same as last year – $6,500 – to help cover other costs such as computer software to track exhibits. Amherstburg Historic Sites had requested $7,500 to help offset costs with museum curator Valerie Buckie noting the Rotary Club is no longer able to fund the museum at the level it once did. A cutback in the number of school tours at Fort Malden National Historic Site has also impacted the Park House, she added, as there were a number of tours that went to both sites.

A new request was a $1,400 grant to Skate Amherstburg. Club president Sharon Kawai told council of the recent Pat Abela/Lyle McPhedran competition held at the UCCU Complex and that host organizations have to pay hotel and mileage for officials per Skate Canada regulations. While Councillor Carolyn Davies questioned why taxpayers would fund people staying in Windsor but others countered that it was “an investment” that could possibly lead to a hotel operator coming to Amherstburg.

The North American Black Historical Museum was given a grant of $7,000, up from the $6,000 the museum received last year. However, a separate $2,500 request made by the museum for increased signage was denied.

The Windsor Symphony Orchestra received $4,000, down from the $5,000 the organization had requested but up from the $3,000 received last year. Christ Church received $750, the same as last year, to maintain the historic cemetery on the church grounds.

Amherstburg Community Services received $3,000, the same as 2012, though the organization had requested $5,000. Davies had argued the grant should be higher than $3,000, noting several new programs had been added by ACS since moving into the former Amherstburg Cultural Centre on Victoria St. S.

The House of Shalom gets a slight bump up to $5,500 from the $4,000 received last year with the youth centre having requested $7,000. The Amherstburg Food & Fellowship Mission will receive $1,000 in 2013, up from the $750 received last year but not as much as the $1,500 requested.

Sutton declared conflict on the House of Shalom deliberations as he is the organization’s executive director. DiPasquale similarly declared conflict on the Food & Fellowship Mission’s portion of the agenda, citing the fact he is on that group’s board of directors.

Council was split on a $1,500 request from the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce request to sponsor the “Citizen of the Year” award but ultimately shot it down via a 4-3 vote. Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland along with Pouget and DiPasquale supported the request with Hurst, Pillon, Sutton and Davies being opposed.

The meeting also saw the town review its 2013 operational budget. Preliminary budget figures show total operating expenses being just under $25.9-million. The 2012 budget saw operating expenses be over $24.6-million. Hiring of two new directors will likely be a reason administrative costs are up but it is hoped that other costs such as legal expenses could be reduced if yet-to-be hired directors have a legal background. Parks maintenance will likely also increase this year after a reduction in labor costs last year resulted in complaints from residents about the condition of parks such as Navy Yard Park.

Costs are predicted to drop in the cultural services area with ACS renting the cultural centre and another reduction is expected at the former Amherstburg Arena as the requested budget drops $14,000 for that building. The UCCU Complex budget calls for a proposed increase though director of recreation and culture Dean Collver noted revenues are coming in higher than expected as well.

The capital budget will be reviewed at a public budget session Feb. 7 with both capital and operational budgets receiving further review Feb. 27. The budget is slated to be completed and approved March 4.

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