A report calls on Saanich councillors to help develop a policy for the use of a contingency fund that has not been without its controversies.
“As this funding is relatively unique, there is no best practice to assist staff in making recommendations to [council],” said Valla Tinney, Saanich’s director of finance in a report to council that seeks direction. “Specific direction in advance would enable staff to draft a policy to meet [council’s] needs.”
The previous council established the strategic initiatives fund in 2017. Total contributions to the fund since then have reached $2.4 million, with $795,000 remaining unused. Over the years, it has funded a series of Saanich-specific planning studies and surveys among other items, but also supplied funding for larger regional issues and initiatives, such as the future citizens’ assembly on amalgamation ($250,000). Council has also dedicated $500,000 towards the broad category of affordable housing.
Council most recently used $50,000 from the fund to become a sponsor of the Jeux de la Francophonie Canadienne. Defending the decision, Mayor Fred Haynes said this use of council’s strategic fund is consistent with previous uses, such as spending $20,000 towards supporting supporting Greater Victoria’s bid for the 2022 Invictus Games and and $85,000 towards Aboriginal art.
Two councillors — Couns. Susan Brice and Nathalie Chambers — voted against it, with both questioning the value that Saanich stands to receive from its support, because the event itself will take place in Oak Bay. In her opposing remarks, Chambers also worried about draining the fund.
Outsiders also have questioned it. Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria have previously argued that the fund exists outside the “normal budgetary process.”
This said, council has called for a policy, and the report represents another step in that direction. Several questions, however, remain outstanding. They include among others whether the fund should be subject to a bylaw (which would make its use less flexible, but also more accountable), spending limits, or tied to specific priorities.
Council will consider the report Monday.