Councillors met virtually during their March 23 meeting. (Photo courtesy of City of Quesnel)

Councillors met virtually during their March 23 meeting. (Photo courtesy of City of Quesnel)

Quesnel council debates funding non-profits directly

The discussion was sparked after a request from Big Brothers Big Sisters Quesnel was denied

A request from Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS) of Quesnel lead to a deep discussion from the Quesnel City Council about the role it should play to the non-profit organizations in the city.

While the city’s Financial Sustainability and Audit Committee (FSAC) denied the request, Councillor Mitch Vik brought forward a motion for council to give BBBS $10,000 from their COVID-19 safe re-start grant to help cover their rent during council’s March 23 meeting.

Vik noted the group employs staff and their fundraising efforts for the year have been severely affected by COVID-19.

While councillors universally praised BBBS for their work, they were hesitant to get into a conversation about which groups they should be funding, and which groups they shouldn’t be funding.

“(BBBS) do a wonderful job, and I support them whole-heartedly whenever I can,” Councillor Scott Elliott said. “How do we single out one group, where do you want to start?”

The city did not use all of their COVID-19 safe re-start funds for the year. Councillor Martin Runge suggested the city look into using the remaining funds to create a one-time granting program for non-profits in Quesnel.

City Manager Byron Johnson noted council used to fund non-profits, and it took years to “wean” them off of city funding. The Williams Lake council funds non-profits directly.

“I want to caution council a bit,” he said. “The question was is that a core mandate for the city? It was a lot of hard work… As you know once we’re back in regular times, budgets are always tight.”

Vik clarified he was only proposing, and BBBS were only asking, for a one-time payment.

Quesnel has a budget policy preventing such funding, unless it’s related to a strategic partnership. Mayor Bob Simpson used the North Cariboo Seniors’ Council as an example. He added the establishment of the Quesnel Community foundation allowed council to stop their grant and aid program.

“How does a council be an arbiter of which not-for-profits get money?” Simpson asked. “The grant and aid program depended on who had a passion for what… Tonight is illustrative of the problem with that process, when one group gets a councillor to be an advocate in council chambers. What about the other groups that don’t have a councillor advocating… It’s just bad process.”

Councillor Ron Paul said he thought some money from council’s Indigenous outreach funding to support BBBS, speculating most of the kids using their services were Indigenous.

Councillor Laurey-Anne Roodenburg asked for Paull to apologize and take back what he said, noting he did not know who uses BBBS services, saying he was “way out of line.”

Paull immediately apologized for his comments.

Council decided to ask FSAC to investigate the potential for creating a one-time grant program in Quesnel.

READ MORE: Big Brothers Big Sisters blown away by clothing drive response

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