Council was working overtime last week, meeting on two consecutive nights to hear presentations from twenty organisations, individuals and groups seeking a Community Grant for next year. These have to be the most difficult and yet enjoyable decisions mayor and council get to make: providing funding to those who help to add such value to our community.
With all (all!) the debate over prisons and lockdowns and climate change we’ve indulged in for a couple of years (seems longer….), it is wonderful to take a look at a much more unifying and inspiring theme. Just think: council get to support local community initiatives that will bring joy, entertainment, recreation, and (dare I say it?) Culture to us all during 2022.
Now, let me say at the outset that there are some who will carp at this expenditure of taxpayer money. Many will remember that, not that long ago, previous councils cancelled the Community Grants program entirely. After strong reaction, the program was restored, but with a pitiful budget that failed to adequately address the demand. Others will remember previous members of council state that residents (like the Scouts, for example) should pay for their own ‘hobbies”, and not expect public aid. Even more astonishing, in retrospect, was the objection raised by some on council to having any public money spent on celebrating Canada Day! Yes, folks, it really happened, and we should never forget it.
That is why we should mark this recent slate of grant applications, being happy and relieved that there are those among our friends and neighbours who are willing and able to devote time, energy, and imagination to provide opportunities that would not exist without them. According to the municipality, the Community Grants budget is $140,000. This may seem like a lot, but it amounts to less than 1% of tax revenue. Hardly seems extravagant, given what we all get from it.
There are a few items that are pre-authorised, and did not need to be presented to council to receive funds: $12,500 for Kemptville & District Home Support’s Escorted Transportation Service; $11,400 for the Meet me on Main Street 2022 event; and, yes, hip hooray, $20,000 to celebrate Canada Day 2022. There was also an item listed on one point, but disappeared subsequently, for $7,500 to pay for “Kemptville Creek Ice Clearing”. This may have been removed when staff realised that Kemptville Creek doesn’t actually exist (!).
But, whatever the size of the draft budget for the Community Grants, it can’t cover every application made to it. The total amount requested for 2022 by local applicants amounts to $313,120, but, after the above noted items are covered, only $88,600 is left to divide among the seekers. Hence, the decisions council have to make are both most difficult and most rewarding for them. Who to pick?
A quick look through the list of applicants shows what a job this is. Many have often, and repeatedly, spoken of how wonderful this community is when it comes to volunteering, providing a wide choice of recreational and cultural activities to residents, etc.; and this list confirms it once again. The examples I cite here do not constitute an endorsement, just a little insight into the kind of contribution volunteers make to our daily lives.
One local resident, for example, seeks funds to continue providing free art lessons, as “the municipality does not offer art classes of any kind, and Art is no longer taught in school in North Grenville”. This initiative would cost just $1,000 in funding.
A tremendous asset to North Grenville and beyond, the Beth Donovan Hospice is looking for funds to continue their Grief & Bereavement program. In 2021, local volunteers contributed 4,638 hours of service, with 985 hours being for the bereavement program. Over the last 11 years, usage of the bereavement program has increased by over 400%.
Recreational activities are represented by the North Grenville Curling Club, the Kemptville Snowmobile Klub (celebrating their 50th year), and the Seaway Surge Baseball Club. There are cultural activities seeking support also, such as the Kemptville Male Choir, the North Grenville Community Theatre group, and the North Grenville Poetry Guild.
But there are more serious calls on the program also. In addition to the Hospice, there’s the Rural FASD Support Network, the Salvation Army Food Bank, and a group looking to provide a replacement for the cancelled Neon Night event. The Community Grant program is there to provide support to every aspect of North Grenville life, and makes a hugely important contribution to the continuing community life we enjoy year-round. More than that even: it underlines the astonishing range of voluntary activities that continue here, regardless of social, political, or cultural upheavals that come our way.
I remember, as do so many of us, the trauma caused by previous attempts to do away with, or emasculate this program in the past. I also remember, with genuine gratitude, what that program meant to groups with which I was involved at the time, such as the North Grenville Historical Society, or the Oxford Mills Community Association. And so, as we deal with challenges from outside and from within North Grenville, we can at least celebrate the work of these and many other groups in society, and both thank and pity mayor and council as they try and decide where the funds go for 2022. Maybe we could manage 2% of taxes next time? Just asking….