Four community events get retroactive funding

Loverboy on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tecumseh Park in Chatham during the Festival of Nations event. (Photo by Cheryl Johnstone)

Regardless of some pushback from a few councillors, four Chatham-Kent community events will be getting municipal funding despite the fact that they’ve already taken place.

A motion went forward Monday night requesting that a combined total of $43,334 in funding go to the Merlin Legion Family Fun Day, Festival of Nations, The Wallaceburg Antique Motor Boat Outing (WAMBO), and Otter Creek Jam Fest.

The Merlin Legion Family Fun Day took place on June 30, 2019. On June 10, council approved a motion from Councillor Mark Authier that $2,500 in funding be considered after group organizers tried to apply for the Community Partnership Fund grant but didn’t realize until after the fact that their application never actually went through.

WAMBO took place in the middle of August and was up for $5,000 in retroactive funding. Organizers did not submit a funding application but had they, it would have been eligible for review. Another Wallaceburg event, Otter Creek Jam Fest, held its inaugural event at the beginning of August and was being considered for $15,000 in funding. Under 2019 grant guidelines, Otter Creek Jam Fest was not eligible because it was a fundraising event. However, in 2019, council approved funding for RM 40/RetroFest although it had fundraising elements.

Festival of Nations was previously approved for a $5,000 grant, but under new funding guidelines, it would have been eligible for a $20,00 grant because of its classification as a significant community event.

All three events were up for retroactive funding after Councillor Carmen McGregor brought forward a successful motion on July 15 requesting that staff prepare a report outlining financial support options for the three events that are in-line with what was provided to RM 40/RetroFest, accounting for event size, noting that all three events brought thousands of people into the community.

“I brought the motion originally for the two and added in the Festival of the Nations simply because it was the understanding of these committees that this is where it was going to go and we were going to help them build an event,” McGregor explained.

During Monday night’s discussion on the retroactive funding, Amy Wilcox, manager of corporate initiatives, admitted that the providing of grant money after the fact is not normally how the Community Partnership Fund works and that these would be considered “one-off” situations.

Although councillors said they were in favour of providing support to community events, many took issue with bending the rules with the retroactive funding, including Councillor Joe Faas.

“We’ve turned other people away and all of a sudden we’re allowing other people to come in and benefit from that program. I’m not sure how to address that but I cannot support this…for the very fact that not everybody’s being treated equally here,” said Faas.

The separate issue of cleaning up the grant process also brought a lengthy discussion on Monday. Up for council approval was the rebranding and restructuring of the Community Partnership Fund. Staff recommended that the fund get rebranded as “Together CK” to help avoid confusion and bring a more streamlined process for groups looking to apply for event grants. The new model would be split into different categories: General events, significant community events, and CK Plan 2035 community projects.

Together CK will also feature a new core grant program and a reserve to fund requests for financial support for large scale, one-time events. The original budget for the Community Partnership Fund was $175,000, the new total budget allocated for Together CK will be $510,000, money that has already been approved and set aside during the 2019 budget deliberations for the purpose of community projects.

The new Together CK grant program was approved by council. Councillor Trevor Thompson questioned whether the updated model would help eliminate some of the back and forth between which groups get funding and which groups don’t. He added that allocating grant money has been a ‘messy’ process in 2019.

“This has been a fiasco and a botch-up from the get-go and we’re continuing to make it worse,” said Thompson.

As the municipality tries to clean up their event funding process, Councillor Michael Bondy worried that approving the four events for retroactive funding might send the wrong message.

“We say we’re going to tidy this up and it will be cleaned up but…I think we’re kind of sending the message that ‘these are the new policies but they really don’t matter, if you fail to follow the rules just come back and see us a few months late,'” Bondy stated. “[Everybody] has missed a deadline somewhere and the consequence is, you’ve missed the deadline or you haven’t fulfilled the requirements. If that’s the case, the answers no. No’s a hard answer to give but from time to time that’s what we have to do.”

Councillor Brock McGregor agreed there have been some ‘growing pains’ with trying to fund events but also acknowledged the increase of events that have taken in place in Chatham-Kent over the last year is a positive step.

“I think when something’s worth doing, sometimes it’s difficult. We tried to do something new with the way we’re funding community projects, community events. Far from a fiasco, I think this has been a really successful year,” said McGregor. “You look at the Festival of Nations, WAMBO, you look at all these events. Yeah, it was a little messy in [council chambers] on occasion but in the community, it was a great year.”

Funding for all four events were eventually approved by council.  The money will come from the partnership development reserve.