WINDSOR JUNCTION: A meeting between HRM finance and the LWF Ratepayers Association (LWFRA) has answered some—but not all—of their concerning questions surrounding their grants program.
The meeting, held in mid-January, had board members from the LWFRA meet with HRM, including Manager of Finance Policy and Planning Bruce Fisher, at the LWF Hall in Fall River.
Marni Tuttle and Jay Cameron were two of the board members who were in attendance when HRM staff came out to discuss the grants program. Councillor Steve Streatch was not at the meeting.
“We were told repeatedly (by HRM) that the LWFRA had done nothing wrong, that we followed all the rules, that HRM had not detected any problems or anomalies,” said Tuttle. “I did get a sense that they did not know what this program (the grants) means to our community and why it’s setup in the way that it is.”
Several months ago during discussions around area rates at HRM, Regional Council, Councillor Steve Streatch had promised to have HRM Finance out to speak with the LWFRA about the new process for its grants program. The program has benefited many local community organizations over the years. The grants given out saw the money come from a surplus from the area rate.
Cameron said it was a flowing discussion, where they were able to provide a lot of background information, what it has supported, and the passion the community has it.
“There was a lot of confusion about the path forward and how we got there,” he said. “We acknowledge there was a flurry of communication during the amendment meeting last summer, and then there was a vacuum of information since then.
“What wasn’t acknowledged is the various attempts to engage by the board to clarify the intent of the gate of going to community council and the means to do that process. I don’t know if we walked away with a clear understanding of how to get to the community council.”
He said one of his concerns is the lack of precedent to the process, and feeling the LWFRA was being targeted.
“We were led to belief there was an overall discomfort of area rates within HRM, and that we should expect more controls if not movements to get rid of area rates to follow outside of just the LWF area rate,” said Cameron.
Tuttle said another concern was the lack of consultation with the community
“HRM’s process clearly says they are to consult with the community, so that wasn’t resolved,” she said.
Cameron said there was a commitment to further frame the good that is done by the LWFRA Grants program through an audit of expenditures of the last few years out of the fund.
“We’re worried that they may just ask for a staff report and the grant request may get buried for months,” said Cameron.
“It could potentially end up being a barrier for groups applying,” added Tuttle.
In a separate interview, Streatch said the funding of the Windsor Junction Community Centre was not supposed to be part of that as it is core funding, which the area rate was initially setup to fund.
“I believe that should remain status quo,” he said.
He said the formula as to how the organization will apply to the community council is up for discussion.
“To me, it’s very simple. They start with their local councillor,” said Streatch. “I would welcome correspondence with the organization and would be pleased to work with them on moving this initiative forward in streamlining any requests that come to community council. It’s there to help the people, not to be adversarial.”
Both Tuttle and Cameron reiterated communication is needed from Streatch, and there seems to be a lack of that.
“We have reached out repeatedly to Northwest Community Council and haven’t had a response,” she said. “All of our communication with HRM has been copied to our local councillor (Steve Streatch) and have not had any interaction with him. We expected him at this meeting with HRM.”
Asked about expecting to see Streatch at the meeting, Tuttle understands councillors are busy and they have to decide on their priorities.
“We certainly are willing to engage our councillor in a conversation at any time,” she said. “We feel we have invited him to participate in this process, and we’re really surprised he hasn’t given he came to the LWFRA AGM and spoke passionately about area rates.”
Cameron feels they have tried to engage with Streatch.
“I think it is our responsibility as effective citizens to do due diligence to figure out how to best engage with our councillor, and I feel we’ve tried to through a number of communication methods and we’ve failed to.
“I am personally at the point where I need some explicit advice from the councillor on how to best engage him, so we can have this conversation in the open.”