Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Deciding How to Spend Northern Lights Money

For the past few years, the Northern Lights Development Corporation has given $250,000 to the city. A portion of this money, $50,000, is set aside to cover expenses for the annual pow-wow and a golf tournament; the remainder is spent on various things by council.

Last year, the entire $200,000 went for new garbage cans downtown, and a splash park in the east end. In previous years, money was spent on such things as maintenance at the water park, and a van for Family Futures.

The process? Well, it's not public - we don't invite applications from community groups. Instead, councillors are supposed to bring forward suggestions from groups within their wards - this has turned it essentially into a pork-barreling excercise that I'm sure some councillors will be quick to remind residents of in the next election campaign.

The guidelines? There are none, except that the money is not supposed to be used for salaries. We have no submission requirements - no business plans, no indication of what other funding sources are available, no indication if ongoing operating costs have been taken into account (for example, if we're providing funding for a van, how will ongoing licensing and maintenance costs be handled).

The decision-making process? The usual uneven approach - at Monday's meeting we quickly approved one funding decision ($50,000 to provide new skate changing facilities at Crescent Heights Park), then got into discussion about what we should be considering when we make these decisions, after 1/4 of this year's money had already been decided upon. And our consistency is also lacking - although vans have been approved in the past, all of a sudden we're asking questions, and deciding to only grant half the money requested for two vans.

I've made a few suggestions about how the process could work, but none of these has been acted upon.

To start with, I'd make it a public process, and ask community groups to apply to council as a whole for funding, with a business plan that indicates exactly what they would do with the money, and what programs it would support.

I would set up criteria for assessing these applications - perhaps we could require that other funding partners be involved, or that programs requesting money indicate that they are meeting a need for a disadvantaged sector of society, or improve park facilities in an area of the city that has fewer such amenities. We could reserve a portion of the money for projects that would benefit the whole city - the Rotary Trail is a good example of that. I would suggest that funding requests for matters that should rightly be part of the city maintenance budget - such as maintenance of the water slides - not be considered.

Having criteria would also make it easier to make defensible decisions - being able to say that this project earned 17 points over another project that earned only 10 points would make the whole process much more fair.

And finally, I would try to remove the pork-barreling aspect - if a project is going to benefit only a certain part of the city, such as a splash park, the councillor for that ward should remove themselves from the vote.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, none of these suggestions has made it to the final process.

We have been most fortunate that Northern Lights shares this money with us every year, but we should recognize that we have a responsibility to use this money wisely, and use it where it will have the most benefit.

"The test of our progess is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." - Franklin Roosevelt


Timmy said...

You have a point there, I agree with you that you carry a responsibility when taking their money.

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John said...

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