Don Illingworth clears broom at the summit last summer of Mount Douglas Park. Saanich councillors are worried the grant program is drifting away from supporting groups looking at environmental improvement projects.

Saanich to take a hard look at community grant policy

Funding rules unclear, open to abuse say councillors

A small but impassioned group of volunteers has clocked thousands of hours removing aggressive ivy, English holly, broom – all invasive species – from Mount Douglas Park over the last six years.

Upwards of 60 hectares of the park have been cleared so far, but Judy Spearing, with the Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society, says there’s always more work to do.

“We have to go back and do secondary sweeps because of how thick (the invasive species are) in some of the areas. And sometimes we get surprise infestations of other invasive species that you wouldn’t think about – garlic mustard, periwinkle, lamium,” she said.

Friends of Mount Doug is one of 13 community groups that received a grant this week through Saanich’s community matching fund program. The program provides financial assistance to projects that benefit Saanich, so long as the group applying matches the municipality’s contribution, through money or sweat equity.

Spearing says she’s glad Friends of Mount Doug successfully lobbied for $1,800, which will be spent on work equipment like tools, gloves and tarps.

“It’s important because as volunteers, you burn out. These tools are critical to preventing injury and making things a little faster and easier,” she said.

While council approved a baker’s dozen worth of grants Monday night – for projects ranging from strings concerts atop Mount Tolmie to youth programs at Shoreline community school – the approvals came with hesitation.

“Some of the types of applications we’re receiving have mutated to something different now,” said Coun. Vicki Sanders. She noted that the fund began in 2002 as a way to assist community associations with environmental improvement projects and build neighbourhood features like benches and notice boards.

Matching grants shouldn’t go to pay for such requests as “a bouncy castle for Cadboro Bay Fest,” Sanders said. She also raised concerns, echoed by her fellow councillors, that some groups may be taking advantage of an ambiguous and unclear granting policy.

Coun. Vic Derman, pointing to Shoreline’s application, says that request appears aimed more at offsetting an operating budget.

“As I understand it, there weren’t specific projects being identified – it was more ongoing services they wanted funding for,” Derman said of the View Royal school’s application.

Coun. Nichola Wade, noting that four of the 13 projects were to buy equipment for invasive species removal in different parks, suggested creating a community where the tools can be shared among different volunteer groups.

Council unanimously asked staff to review the language in the grant policy, to see how it can be refocused to clarify council’s intentions behind issuing grants.

“If we’re going to be make the investment, it’s important to understand what we’re trying to get out of it,” Sanders said.

In total, council approved $11,900 worth of community matching grants Monday night.

Spearing says while the money will be a huge help in improving Mount Douglas’ natural look, the group is always in need of more volunteers.

For a calendar of ongoing invasive species removal projects around the municipality and when volunteers meet, visit volunteer opportunities in Saanich.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

 

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