Penticton city council has agreed to pre-approve tens of thousands of dollars worth of grants to support local arts and culture organizations, ahead of formal budget deliberation, as a two-year pilot project.
At Tuesday's regular council meeting, pondered five proposed municipal grant operating agreements and eight special event grant operating agreements. Normally, those would be discussed along with other grant requests during budget talks, one line item at a time.
The pilot project proposal was described by staff as "a result of council directing staff to provide an alternative to the yearly grant application process for organizations, such as those applicants that use city property, where the provision of longer term funding may be desirable," thereby streamlining the fast-approaching yearly budget process.
The five municipal grant operating agreements each year during the two-year pilot are:
- Art Gallery $110,000
- SS Sicamous $85,000
- Penticton & District Arts Council $ 30,000
- Activate Penticton $15,000
- Penticton & Area Cycling Association $49,000
Those organizations all operate out of city-owned facilities or infrastructure.
The eight special event grant operating agreements each year during the two-year pilot are:
- Downtown Penticton Association (Community Market) $4,300
- Pentastic Jazz Festival Society $10,200
- Penticton Elvis Festival $6,300
- Penticton Farmer’s Market $6,000
- Peach City Beach Cruise $10,500
- Penticton Paddle Sports Association (Event) $12,000
- Penticton Peach Festival $60,000
- Penticton Scottish Festival Society $8,400
Some on council had concerns.
"I'm a little conflicted about this," said Coun. Amelia Boultbee, adding that, without naming names, she believes that some organizations on the list should be "striving for more independence" away from city coffers.
"Has there been any thought given to the fact that if we just grant a particular amount for two years on a fixed schedule that it reduces the impetus on that organization to seek other funding opportunities or grants or to become more self sufficient?"
City manager Anthony Haddad said staff logic is that the two-year pilot will be a learning opportunity, and that city staff will still be involved ensuring funds are used appropriately.
Some of the facilities that these organizations use their operating grants to run are aging and expensive to run, and the city will need to look at their future.
"I think that what the two year agreement does is provide some certainty around the base funding in terms of what's coming from the municipality for their operational piece," Haddad said, adding they can still apply for outside grants.
"Ideally, there's obviously a longer-term agreement but that not may not be the best solution after we've gone through this pilot program. So I think, a lot of learning over the next two years now that there's a consistent funding arrangement for at least two years for these organizations."
Coun. Isaac Gilbert asked about a more competitive RFP-style model, which Haddad said could be something to that was a possibility in the future.
Others on council wondered about original asks by the organizations, and staff confirmed in many cases that they countered with much less after looking at the financials.
Coun. James Miller attempted to make a motion to up the Penticton Art Gallery's yearly grant to $140,000, up from $110,000, but did not find any support from fellow councillors.
"I don't want to get into an all-out debate because obviously council does not have the appetite to do this," Miller said, explaining his motion was intended to help fix a lopsided preference for sports events and facilities funding over arts.
"I'm not anti-sport, but I think that when we're taking into consideration the vast amount of money and support that goes into organizations such as Ironman, the Granfondo, all great events, no question ... I didn't think [$140,000] was outrageous."
When it came time to vote, Coun. Boultbee said she would be supporting the pilot, though with reservations.
"I'd just like to ask that it's carefully tracked, whether the organizations are applying for the grants [outside of the city] that they did in the past," Boultbee said.
"Part of my analysis [in two years] on whether it is a successful pilot project will be that these organizations still did everything they could to be as self-sufficient as possible."
The pilot project passed with a 6--1 vote, with Coun. Miller opposed.