Grant request drives fiscal debate for Penticton council
A request from a sports group for financial help from the City of Penticton was the trigger for a number of issues, including how tourism marketing is being funded in the city.
The Apex Freestyle Club approached the city, asking for help with costs associated with two major competitions the club hosted last year, the Nor-Am Cup and the Canadian Nationals Freestyle Skiing Championships.
All together, the club is $8,000 in debt for the two events, and was hoping for a grant of $2,000 to help cover the shortfall. Through the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, the club has a funding commitment from Area D (Okanagan Falls), and was looking for matching funds from Area E (West Bench) and Area F (Naramata) as well as Penticton to make up the $8,000 shortfall.
Grant requests are nothing new for city council; as Coun. John Vassilaki pointed out in the ensuing discussion, Penticton has a grant budget of around $1 million. But this request, which council eventually granted, touched off a sometimes heated discussion about the City of Penticton’s responsibility for events happening outside city limits.
“This event is an event that actually makes it on to the world stage. Again, Penticton and the ski club host an event that attracts international competition,” said Coun. Garry Litke, supporting the ski club’s request.
“The kids that are up there competing are just two steps away from the Olympics. From there they go to the World Cup and from there to an Olympic team.”
Coun. Wes Hopkin was opposed to granting the request, especially after the fact. There are, he said, many non-profits struggling with losses who don’t come to council. This was a risk the Apex Freestyle Club accepted, he said, when they took on hosting a large competition.
“They are only coming to us now after they have had this difficulty,” said Hopkin, who felt the city would set a major precedent by helping out, that groups might think it is OK to run at a loss because the city would bail them out.
Coun. Helena Konanz also felt council had no obligation to assist the club. She was supportive of the ski club, but pointed out that it runs out of Apex Mountain, which is in Area D of the RDOS.
“This is a very good example of an RDOS function, and this would be a great thing for the RDOS to support. As a region, we should support them there,” she said.
Konanz was uncomfortable with the request both because it was coming in late and because there are sporting groups within Penticton having difficulty with funding. Penticton groups, she said, are unlikely to get a positive response from other areas of the RDOS if they asked for financial help.
Coun. John Vassilaki also voiced opposition but took a different tack for where aid for the ski club should be coming from. The Penticton Hospitality Association, he said, was in possession of two years of additional hotel room tax they had not spent.
“We have the hospitality group that hasn’t spent a dime out of the $400,000 they got the year before last and the $400,000 last year. They’ve got $800,000 sitting in the bank and the majority of the money those folks (athletes and spectators) are going to spend is going to be spent in their hotels. They are the people that should be paying this $2,000, perhaps the whole amount,” said Vassilaki.
“They haven’t allocated a dime anywhere and they are making all the money and yet we have to pay to bring business into the city on their behalf. I think it is outrageous.”
Vassilaki’s comments provoked a reply from Rob Appelman, president of the Penticton Hospitality Association, who was attending council’s regular meeting last week.
“I do resent the comment you made about us hoarding the $800,000. First, it’s not 800,000. We are not hoarding the money. We have gone around to all the community event organizers,” said Appelman, who said the PHA has invited funding proposals from community events.
The PHA had not heard from the Apex Freestyle Club, however.
“They didn’t approach us. We are encouraging everyone to approach us and ask for funding,” said Appelman.
According to budgets provided by the club, lodging for various officials accounted for more than $11,000, compared to $750 marketing for each event.