The District of Squamish's new community organization funding system has some charities worried they'll be left empty handed.
In July, officials began the process of narrowing the scope of organizations eligible for tax exemptions. The new district permissive tax exemption (PTE) requirements have shortened the list of eligible groups from 21 to eight.
The intention is to limit PTEs to a bare minimum and shift requests for aid to the community enhancement grant process, the district's chief financial officer said at council's Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 18.
“We believe that by evaluating the majority of our requests for aid in one process, [it] would be more transparent, more accountable obviously, and the evaluation process would be more balanced,” Joanne Greenlees said.
The switch won't make a difference as long as organizations who received tax breaks are handed grants for an equal amount, said Ed Robertson. But the president of Squamish's Royal Canadian Legion branch noted that's not guaranteed.
A lot of people are keeping tabs on the change, said Stephen Miller, B.C. Lions Society for Children with Disabilities president. The society's summer camp in Squamish, which is used by hundreds of children with disabilities every year, traditionally has received a PTE. This year, the group will apply for a grant.
Miller said he was taken aback by the lack of open discussion surrounding the change.
“I know that a number of groups were taken by surprise,” he said.
District staff haven't yet created criteria guiding what programs and organizations qualify for the community enhancement grant, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said. Without that, municipal officials are asking community groups to take a blind leap of faith, she noted.
The district will likely have to triple the grant fund to account for previous tax exemptions, Heintzman added. Until the mechanisms are ironed out, Heintzman made a motion that council accept the proposed policy, but include the B.C. Lions Society for Children with Disabilities, Howe Sound Women's Centre Society, Alano Club, Diamond Head Legion and Squamish Senior Citizens Home Society in this year's PTE.
Mayor Rob Kirkham called Heintzman's motion an about-face. In July, council had agreed to move ahead with the policy.
“I am finding it a bit disturbing that we go through this process and then we go through it again,” he said.
Coun. Ted Prior said he was happy to support Heintzman's original suggestion, which didn't include the Legion. As such, Heintzman modified her list to include only the women's and seniors centre societies, the Alano Club and B.C. Lions Society.
The motion passed with Kirkham and Coun. Doug Race voting in opposition. Race said he had no objection to tweaking the policy, but noted district staff were running out of time to deal with the changes needed to meet district's budget requirements.