Late Vernon councillor Bob Spiers would be sitting at his council chair with his head in his hands in disbelief.
Coun. Akbal Mund, who was serving as mayor in 2018 when the longtime councillor died in office in June, channeled Spiers, the city’s financial watchdog while in office, in the midst of yet another considerable debate on whether the city should fund a $75,000 request from the North Valley Gymnastics Society for costs associated with its newly renovated building on 31st Street. The society moved into the building in 2018.
“Bob would turn over in his grave with what’s before us here,” said Mund. “We have to be careful and prudent on how we look at this from the taxpayers’ view.”
City of Vernon staff is recommending council keep to the city’s process when dealing with the request which came from the society in February.
Administrator Will Pearce said Monday there are two council-approved legitimate ways for any groups to apply to council for what would be considered a grant-in-aid.
One is to hit one of two over-subscribed submission periods in April and October for the grant-in-aid program, which has a $50,000 for 2019. By council policy, the current maximum police available is $25,000 for any one application.
“All groups are considered equally and fairly on a level playing field,” said Pearce. “Council and the finance committee have some perspective with regards to the application or applications before them, and created a sense of priority for the community.”
The second option is one that hasn’t been used for a number of years. A group can make an application for funding by September so council could consider the application, the program and its merit. If approved, the funding would be embedded in the city’s budget for the following year.
“Administration does not recommend simply approving a grant application outside of that process,” said Pearce. “Council then has no means of validating or balancing or creating a sense of priority with regards to all of the community expectations.
“It would also set a precedent, and administration would anticipate that council would be faced with a number of applications…”
Coun. Brian Quiring had wanted to find a way to give the society what they’re looking for, only to be told that $75,000 is not available at this time.
“They’ve done a lot of heavy lifting themselves on this, they just haven’t got to where they need to get financially,” said Quiring. “It’s a great amenity for the community to have that kind of facility. I think it’s a great investment in our kids and youth.”
Coun. Kari Gares suggested a repayable loan program and working toward a partnership with the city, adding the club has more than 600 members.
Vernon did fund a repayable loan last year with the Vernon Pickleball Association to help them complete construction of their facility which, Pearce pointed out, is a public facility with public hours.
Coun. Kelly Fehr said while he doesn’t doubt the value of the gymnastic club’s service, he’s concerned about using taxpayers’ money without a weighing system.
“To weigh need versus need, and it puts a major liability on the corporation to arbitrarily make decisions on which societies to give money to without a weighing process, that would be my big concern about proceeding with this,” said Fehr.
Coun. Dalvir Nahal said she was fully in support of giving the society the $75,000.
“They do such great work, they’re not looking for a handout,” she said. “They’ve done all of the legwork. It’s a great facility. It’s not a lot of money they’re asking for.”
After the discussion, Gares motioned, with an amendment from Quiring, to approach the society about interest in a repayable loan scenario and advising the society to apply for the first round of grant-in-aid intakes in April. The motion was passed by a 5-1 margin with Fehr opposed.
Society spokesperson Paul Jeffry Williamson said Tuesday the club’s board will discuss the council motion.