In a recent special council meeting for the Town of Golden, a discussion over issues surround granting systems in Canada was raised.
Multiple councillors questioned the way the system works, and many of the restrictions that come with grants from the provincial and federal governments.
Manager of Corporate Administration for the Town of Golden, Jon Wilsgard, shared his views on the system.
“Essentially it boils down to a couple of different factors. Municipalities have a few ways of raising revenues to operate. The first of course is property taxes,” Wilsgard said.
He explained that property taxes are the main source of revenue for municipalities.
“There are inherent inequities and unfairness in forcing a government body to base the majority of their operating cost and monies on taxing a very small local area. There is a massive financial disconnect, and that is the point we are reaching,” he said.
“What it is coming down to is that municipalities are reaching a point where they can not tax enough for what needs to be done and the tax payers can not afford the taxation implications of what needs to be done.”
The other big source of potential revenue for town’s like Golden are grants from the provincial and federal governments.
Wilsgard said one of the main issues with the granting system is that “they do not constitute a reliable and continuous stream flow of funds to municipalities.”
Grants can be politically motivated and have mandates attached to them, which controls which area the funds will have to be spent, added Wilsgard.
“As a result of this they are encumbering on what you are allowed to do with them and because of that they completely hijack the proper planning that a municipality has to do,” he said.
Wilsgard used the example of the proposed Bridge to Bridge project where the funds granted to the Town can only be used on a diking project, and nothing else other than flood control measures on the Kicking Horse River.
Town of Golden Mayor Christina Benty said there are both benefits and challenges to the current granting system.
“Grants allow you to do community projects that you wouldn’t normally be able to do,” Benty said.
Benty pointed to the work done on the Golden Civic Centre which only cost tax payers in Golden seven per cent, with the rest of the funding coming from grants.
She went on to say grants are extremely beneficial to towns even though they do come with challenges.
“There are specific timelines and guidelines. They are time consuming to apply for grants. You have to spend money ahead of time to put together an application form which will in a sense dazzle those people where you are applying for a grant,” Benty said.
In the case of the grant for the Bridge to Bridge project Benty explained that even though it is a large grant for such a small town they still have to figure out a way to come up with one-third of the finances required.
“We had no idea we were going to get the grant. We thought a lot of the money was going to go to the lower mainland but felt it was important to us (to apply). We put together the granting proposal and lobbying the government. But we did not know what was going to happen,” she said.
Wilsgard also pointed to the amount of staff hours that have to go into to a rather lengthy process to apply for grants.
He said he understands that there has to be a process but the extreme
“It is completely self defeating in terms of enabling proper planning for municipalities to be able to apply and obtain funds for certain things when they are required. When the timing is right. When the proper plans are finished instead of leaping because the grants are here right now otherwise the money will be gone,” Wilsgard said.
Benty said the system does not allow for municipalities to use funds based off of priorities of the community.
At times towns will apply for grants for many different projects and if you get money for something lower down on the priority list then the perception from the public could be the higher project are being ignored.
“I think having more flexibility would be beneficial,” Benty said.
She went on to explain that if hte town had more flexibility they could identify all the priorities and meet them through a more liberal system.
Even though the granting system has some issues Benty would not take the leap that it should be abandoned.
“I think you can always explore options to improve the system. Throwing it out I do not think would be wise because we have benefited as a community from grants,” she said. “We as local government are trying to provide a broad range of services with limited financial resources.”
In the end Wilsgard explained he sees, “The end game for municipalities would be a share of the consumptive tax and /or sustainable funding from higher levels of government where you know it is coming.”