City grant caps worries local film commission

The Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission is worried it won't be able to expand its operations to meet increasing demand.

The Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission is worried it won’t be able to expand its operations to meet increasing demand after Victoria councillors endorsed a proposal to cap city grants.

During last week’s governance and priorities meeting, councillors voted in favour of a proposal to make changes to the city’s Strategic Plan Grant Policy, including capping grants at $25,000.

Last year, there were a handful of organizations that received more than $25,000 in grants  — the Greater Victoria Economic Development Agency, Tourism Victoria, Beacon Community Services for adult school crossings, AIDS Vancouver Island, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the film commission.

The coalition was grandfathered a $100,000 grant.

Mayor Lisa Helps said an updated grant policy would add fairness, equity and transparency.

“Many organizations have received money year over year from the City of Victoria without having to apply, without having to provide any report letting us know what their other sources of funding are. In a sense, they’ve received taxpayer money every year because they’ve always received money every year,” Helps said, adding the policy would be on a year-by-year basis rather than a grandfathering of funds.

“We can’t just give out money without any accountability.”

Councillors Jeremy Loveday, Geoff Young and Chris Coleman voted against the motion, arguing the city should not limit the size and number of grants awarded to various organizations.

The cap could have a profound affect on the film commission, that could potentially lose $20,000 of its $170,000-budget.

“It’s devastating for us if it actually goes through,” said film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert.

“We’re hoping the city will change their mind and decide to fund us as they have for the last dozen years.”

The film commission, which is the oldest in B.C., is responsible for marketing the Capital Regional District to producers around the world and encouraging them to bring productions to town.

They currently operate with two full-time staff and receives funding from other municipalities in the regional district, the province and fundraising.

Last year was a record year, with 24 productions coming to Victoria, bringing in an estimated $18 million to the local economy.

As a result of the boom in industry that is likely to continue into the new year, the commission was hoping to increase their budget to hire an additional staff member, but will be forced to look elsewhere for increased funding.

“That’s a significant loss to us — $20,000 with a budget of $170,000 is a huge hit. Significant decisions will have to be made if that can’t be corrected,” said Gilbert.

“We’re certainly not going to close our doors, but certainly it will significantly reduce our capacity here and our ability to market the region as effectively as we’d like to.”

She added people who work in the local film industry, hotels and restaurants could also be “significantly” impacted if productions don’t keep rolling in.

Helps acknowledged the challenges some organizations may face, but noted they were given adequate notice that policies could change this year.

“I know that there are some challenges with regard to organizations likes the film commission that provide a valuable economic development function and I think that there may be some merit in considering those and we’ll have that discussion in council,” Helps said.

Other proposed changes to the grant policy include funding only one-time projects and funding projects that primarily benefit Victoria residents.

Mayor and council will vote on the proposal at city council Thursday.