Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City cuts without warning

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Does it make sense that the Norwood Lawn Bowling Club will get a civic grant of $16,521 this year, the same as last year, while the St. Boniface Museum will see its funds slashed by 10 per cent, or $45,000?

Well, Norwood's grant may be fair if you consider it is the only lawn bowling club that is not fully funded by the city, but the idea that St. Boniface Museum has less value to the community than lawn bowling this year than last is questionable. The museum is a national historic site, one of the oldest structures in the city and the largest oak log building in North America.

The problem with the city budget, which hit museums and some non-profit groups with a 10 per cent cut, while leaving other grants unchanged, is that there is no easy way to understand the reasoning behind the decision-making, beyond the general rule that nothing affecting the inner city was cut, while legal agreements and tax-credit programs were respected.

But are museums and organizations such as Block Parent, Age and Opportunity, and Citizens for Crime Awareness, which were all hit, simply unworthy or does the city believe they are capable of raising money elsewhere? Was the Poverty Action Strategy, which was completely gutted, a useless effort, compared to the Manitoba Eco Network, which will again receive $5,000?

The poverty program was started by the United Way, the city's signature charity, but it's unclear if it will make up the difference, or abandon it completely now that civic support has collapsed.

The city decided it needed to cut or eliminate some grants to save about $350,000 in this year's operating budget, which will raise property taxes by nearly four per cent.

The city is expected to make those tough choices. Indeed, it should be scrutinizing its spending habits. And groups that have been receiving grants should not assume they will always receive those funds without question.

The city's sweeping cuts this year, however, were unprecedented and they were announced without consultation with the affected groups. That's both unacceptable and poor practice. Some affected groups will carry on, but there was no way for civic officials to know that without talking to them first.

St. Boniface Museum, for example, is one of the city's marquee attractions, and it would be a shame if it cut its hours or its research because of the budget pinch. The Children's Museum has already said it may have to cut programing, but the city made no effort to understand the impact of its cuts.

Civic politicians often complain they need reliable, predictable funding from other levels of government, but charitable groups also need reliability in order to conduct long-term planning.

Political scientist Karen Levasseur wrote on these pages recently that without stable funding, it's impossible for any organization, private or public, to conduct business in an organized way. She rightly says the city should postpone its planned cuts pending the development of an engagement strategy with the non-profit and charitable sector.

The city needs a new process for evaluating its grants and determining their value to the overall community. The first step in that process should involve communication with the groups involved, rather than blind slashing.

Many of the non-profit groups affected in the budget are part of what the city's long-range planning document, Our Winnipeg, says are necessary to build complete, sustainable communities.

Weakening these groups, however, without stated justification or at least consultation, is hardly an example of sound community-building.

The city also has a duty to conduct its affairs in a way that reflects its responsibility as a corporate role model, but the funding cuts were abruptly announced in a way that showed no respect for the affected organizations or their relative importance to the community.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2013 A10


Updated on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:31 PM CST: The Manitoba Eco Network receives $5,000, not $210,000.

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