Saanich to revisit $600,000 grants program after seniors centre asks for fair share

Goward House Society receives significantly less in grant funding and in-kind services than other seniors centres in Saanich, report finds

A request for more funding by Goward House Society is prompting the District of Saanich to re-examine the way it doles out more than $500,000 in community grants.

Goward House Society president David Eyles wrote to council in December to point out disparity between the $20,000 the society receives as an annual operating grant and the $59,000 the District provided to Silver Thread Service’s Les Passmore Centre last year. Goward House had a paid membership of 490 while Les Passmore had 384 paid members in 2014.

“In recent years, our membership and programs have increased significantly while our volunteer staff has aged and our few paid staff just worked harder rather than being increased in number,” Eyles said.

“We are now close to being victims of our own success, continually doing more and more without significantly increasing our resources. We need the additional support.”

The society is asking for another $10,000 to hire a second part-time employee in 2015.

Goward House pays $1 annually to lease the facility from the municipality, and is also exempt from paying property tax as a not-for-profit organization. But the society holds the unique responsibility of funding or applying for grants for its major facility repairs.

The District did fund the installation of an elevator ($19,000) and repairs on Goward House’s deck ($85,000) in past years, but the funds required one-time approval, according to a staff report.

The Les Passmore Centre, in contrast, received $175,000 in services to cover repairs, grounds maintenance and most of its utilities in 2014, the report notes.

“When there has been a major renovation or repair, we’ve had to go and ask Saanich for a grant. That comes out of the District’s grants program, even though Goward House is their building,” said Elaine Leonard, Goward House manager and its only full-time employee.

Seniors centres in Saanich fall under an array of lease, management, operating and partnership agreements with the District.

Cedar Hill News Horizons, for example, uses the senior’s wing at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, where facility repairs are already funded through the capital budget. Cordova Bay 55 Plus Association uses community space at Cordova Bay elementary, which is owned by School District 63.

On Monday, council asked staff to review all of the leases on District-owned buildings, and to report back separately on “fine-tuning” the community grants program, said Coun. Fred Haynes.

The revised system for evaluating and approving grants won’t be considered until September and won’t impact this year’s requests.

In 2014, Saanich provided $598,531 in community grants to local organizations. This year’s grant requests are valued at $764,132, though council is expected to reject or reduce some of those applications beginning on April 21.

“As we’re going through a governance review and looking at how we’re interacting with the community, we need to have a better understanding of how we allot these several hundreds of thousands of dollars in community grants,” Haynes said. “The goal here is to be able to treat everybody fairly and equitably.”

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