When Victoria councillor Margaret Lucas and her colleagues finished dividing up the funds for various grant applications last year, her phone started to ring.
A few agencies questioned why they didn’t get as much money as they did the previous year. It was because they were at the bottom of the list, Lucas explained, and the city had already distributed most of the $640,000 available from the strategic plan grant program.
“We started to say we only have $30,000 left, so we have 10 people so let’s divide it up. I don’t think that’s an adequate way to do that,” said Lucas, who recognized a need to make the grant consideration process more professional.
“Having to not give people money or an organization is never easy, but I would like to see it on a much more merit-based system.”
In 2016, the city received approximately $1.2 million in grant applications, but only had $640,000 to dish out from its strategic plan grants — a valuable resource to community groups undertaking a wide range of services in the city.
In order to make the evaluation process more merit-based than political, the city will be embarking upon a one-year pilot next year that includes the establishment of an external grant review committee.
During a meeting last week, a number of options were presented to city councillors on how the committee can be structured while leaving council with the ultimate decision making authority.
When it comes to weighing criteria for grant applications, city staff recommended a pre-determined evaluation matrix that would give value to issues and establish an ability to prioritize — a system, noted Lucas, that is also followed by the Victoria Foundation and United Way.
For Mayor Lisa Helps, the matrix is the most important step in the process.
“We need to give out grants based on the merit of the project, not based on dividing up a limited pot and hope everyone gets something,” said Helps. “How do we know what we give priority to? That is a decision for this table that will help to guide the committee.”
Coun. Ben Isitt, however, is not a fan of the idea, and expressed concern about the level of expertise amongst the people who could be selected to serve on the committee. He also believes the process used in the last two years is already efficient and fair. Out of the 70 applications received last year, between 90 and 95 per cent were supportable, he added.
Coun. Chris Coleman threw his support behind the proposed changes, but noted at the end of the day there’s still not enough money for the number of applications that come forward with deserving causes.
“Of course it’s going to be a hard process…there’s a lot of good, worthy groups that come forward, trying to do their work and their needs are based on core funding that we supply,” said Coleman, noting city staff already narrow down the applications for council.
“Recommendations will come to us and we will still get into the same discussion because there will still be some applications that perhaps get 100 per cent of their funding request and others that get little or none.”
Once the committee and its terms of reference have been confirmed, a report to council on the evaluation matrix will be brought forward in October. A notification to all organizations will also be issued about the changes to the strategic plan grant program.