Council debates recreation spending priorities

Prince Albert's new city council gets sworn in on Monday, Nov. 15. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

A discussion on whether to build permanent sliding hills in local parks sparked a wider debate about how the city funds local organizations, and who gets the money.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said the smaller sliding hills shouldn’t be seen as competition for the ski hills and trails at Little Red River Park, but that the city should have a conversation about how much it funds the Nordic Ski Club, which currently only received about $1,000 each year from the city, despite spending countless hours maintaining trails each winter.

Councillors said they received some concerns from the club about a lack of funding for their winter activities, but were comfortable with the sliding hills as they would be a one-time expense and can be used year-round.

Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody agreed that better funding should be looked at for the Nordic Ski Club.

“All we give is a measly $1,000 each year to look after our trails,” he said.

“I think there is a conversation necessary here for that ski club because they do very good work for us through fundraising of their own. We’re the cheapest city on earth when it comes to giving people of that nature any money. We depend on people to volunteer, to give of themselves all the time and I think we should take a good, hard look at that.

The ski club wasn’t the only recreation group whose funding was discussed Monday.

Approval of funding applications for the 2021 Community Grant Program also sparked some concerns from councillors about how the funding is allocated.

The grant is administered by the city on behalf of the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport Culture and Recreation, and assists in the development of sports culture and recreation programs by providing funds to non-profit organizations.

The funding is allocated by population, with Prince Albert receiving $142,985 from Saskatchewan Lotteries for 2021 projects and programs.

The city received 26 applications in total, reducing the requests by about $66,000 because the amount requested was higher than what the city had to award. All applications that met the goals of the program were provided funding. All 26 applicants, the city said, met those requirements and were funded for 2021.

The projects range from children and youth cultural activities run by local Métis organizations to programming out of the Prince Albert Arts Centre to programs operated by the Mann Art Gallery and Prince Albert Historical Society to sports organizations and even Riverside School.

It was Riverside’s inclusion that sparked a discussion about that grant program. Riverside received $4,000 to use towards its fiddle program.

The program will hire Dean Bernier and be geared towards grade 5 and 6 students.

“It concerns me that we’re approving school programs,” said Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick.

“They’re great, valuable programs, but It concerns me that it isn’t being funded by the Ministry of Education. Why would the city be funding that? Are we now picking up, again, programs and activities the ministry should be funding? It’s starting to alarm me.”

Other councillors agreed with Ogrodnick’s assessment.

The program, though, if it’s non-curricular, would not be funded through provincial education grants and likely be covered by fundraising efforts.

Mayor Greg Dionne had a different concern.

He lamented that the same organizations seem to be applying for the funding year after year.

“It seems once they get their grip on this program, we never let them go. I always thought … we should have a rule that you can only qualify for the grant program for two or three years,” he said.

“I’ve sat here 19 years and seen the same names. I think 19 times in 19 years would be enough.”

City staff said the application period is communicated through social media. The determination of who qualifies for funding is based on whether organizations meet the guidelines set out by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Community Grant Program, and should also consider the goals of the city’s Community Services Master Plan.

The community grant policy lists requests for new or innovative programs that do not duplicate existing services and programs and serve instead to expand and improve opportunities as a “favourable consideration.”

At least 30 per cent of grant funding must be used for programs aimed at increasing participation for under-represented populations, and maintenance, operation, construction and renovation costs are ineligible. Each grant maxes out at $12,000, though this year the highest amount given to any one organization was $7,500 granted to the Prince Albert Arts Centre.

The grants, though, must be used by non-profit organizations delivering sports, culture and recreation programs.