City puts grant application process into hands of fiscal review committee

One politician fears decisions will be left to unelected committee

Community organizations seeking grants from the City of Penticton should be prepared for an earlier application deadline and a new screening process if city council approves a new screening process introduced this week.

During the budget process each year, many hours of city council and staff time are taken up dealing with the large number of grant requests, but this year, the city is thinking of shifting the burden to the fiscal review advisory committee.

Last year, the city received 52 grant requests, for nearly $1 million, of which they approved a total of $669,000.

“It’s an issue that council has been asking for advice on for a number of years. It’s always been a thorny issue,” said Mayor Garry Litke. “The fiscal review advisory committee is in place to advise council on financial matters, so it seemed like the logical place for it to go,”

According to a report presented to council this week, the committee is willing to take the job on, but after it became clear councillors were divided on the plan, it was referred to their next committee of the whole meeting for a more thorough discussion.

The revised policy would see each grant application looked over by the fiscal review advisory committee, which would pass their recommendations on to council about which grants should be approved. The deadline for applications would be shifted to Sept. 15, a month earlier than previous years.

“It is a very long process to deal with all these applications. Giving us an extra month allows the city to do that additional due diligence,” said Colin Fisher, the city’s chief financial officer.

Fisher explained that ambiguities in the current application process often result in unclear applications.

“It came down to having to evaluate apples and oranges. They were completed in such different ways that evaluation and comparison was very difficult,” said Fisher.

“As a result, the process was slowed down significantly, especially if we had to go back and request the applicant resubmit.”

Coun. John Vassilaki spoke strongly in opposition to the plan, saying that such decisions should be kept at the council table.

“I will never vote in favour of something like this,” said Vassilaki, noting that the city’s budget is the most important document council has to deal with.

“I would hate to see a non-elected person making a decision or have influence on council as to where taxpayer money should go. People give us the responsibility to make these decisions.”

Vassilaki also noted that many of the grant requests deal with social issues, which he said are the responsibility of council, adding that he was concerned about the possibility of bias by involving a non-elected committee.

“It could be a recommendation to deny or approve or their could be no recommendation. That is also an option of the committee is not comfortable about taking an option,” said Litke.

All applications under the new policy, he explained, would be passed on to council, though there could be other options for how the committee would come to its initial recommendations.

“The intent of council over the past number of years has been to try to get a handle on the amount of money that is being spent,” said Litke. “One option might be that council would approve an envelope of a certain amount of money and give that to the committee to deal with.”

Members of the fiscal review advisory committee include chair Alan Profili, Chris Browne, Tim Gahagan, Paulette Rennie, and Jim Dunlop, chosen for their business or financial backgrounds. Litke and Coun. Helena Konanz are council’s liaisons to the committee, but do not have a vote.