A city committee hopes to discourage other city councillors from doling out big grants from their office budgets.
This afternoon, council’s governance committee gave St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes the go-ahead to spend $28,000 of his office budget to fund efforts to preserve the Seine River. Mayes asked for permission to spend a big chunk of his discretionary ward budget to fund Save Our Seine, a non-profit group which aims to protect the Seine River environment.
Council’s governance committee must approve any grants doled out by councillors over $5,000.
The committee voted in favour of the funding to the organization, but stipulated that it will be a one-time only grant.
The move marks the first large ward-allowance grant since city council voted in favour of a controversial plan to hike councillors’ discretionary budgets by $40,000 per ward. Councillors’ annual budgets will rise to $114,000 from $74,000 in 2013.
Governance committee chairman Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said the increase in councillors’ ward allowances was primarily intended to pay for things such as communication with constituents, office staff and research. Any remaining funds could be distributed to community groups, he said.
Nordman said Mayes’ request struck some members of the committee as a "little much," but he is able to manage his ward budget as he sees fit. He said the committee limited the funding as a one-time grant to ensure councillors try to find other ways to secure annual funding for community groups.
"We certainly want the councillors to make every effort to exhaust every other source of funding before they resort to more than a $5,000 (grant)," Nordman said.
Councillors have a discretionary annual budget to pay for executive assistants, ward activities, transportation, postage, mail-outs and other office expenses. Some councillors argued their previous office budget made it difficult to attract and retain staff, operate their office and maintain communication with ward residents.
Last month, the call to increase councillors’ ward allowances by $40,000 was panned by several members of council who said councillors should not increase their ward budgets at a time when the City of Winnipeg reduced funding to non-profit groups.
Six members of council, including Mayes, voted in favour of a proposal to reduce the increase to ward budgets by $17,600 in order to restore the funding cuts to community groups. The majority of council did not agree and the idea was shot down.
"This is my way of saying, look I don’t think I need that much for bus benches and newspaper ads," Mayes said of his decision to spend $28,000 on Save our Seine. "This is a very good cause and I choose to use it that way."
Save our Seine plans to use the money to hire an executive director, which they have been unable to do for the last two years due to lack of funding.
Mayes pledged to find funding for Save Our Seine as an election promise. He said the city did not have any other sources of funding available aside from his ward allowance budget.
Next year, Mayes said he can still spend $5,000 of his office budget to help the organization and hopes the city and province will contribute further funding to the organization.