ST. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes got the go-ahead Thursday to spend $28,000 of his discretionary office budget to fund Save Our Seine, but other councillors likely won't be able to do the same.
A city committee hopes to discourage other city councillors from using their office budget to dole out big grants.
On Thursday, council's governance committee gave Mayes the green light to support Save Our Seine, a non-profit group that aims to protect the Seine River environment.
The committee voted in favour of the $28,000 grant, but stipulated it will be a one-time-only funding. Council's governance committee must approve any grants handed out by councillors over $5,000.
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.
"By handling this the way we did, we're sending a message," Nordman said following the meeting. "We certainly want the councillors to make every effort to exhaust every source of funding before they resort to more than a $5,000 (grant)."
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, a move 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.
This year, Winnipeg reduced funding to museums by five per cent and eliminated grants to other groups and non-profits, including the Poverty Action Strategy.
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. 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."
Mayes made an election promise to find funding for Save Our Seine. He said the city did not have any other sources of funding available this year aside from his ward allowance budget.
Save Our Seine plans to use the money to hire an executive director, which it has been unable to do for the last two years.
Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said he thinks the funding is worthwhile, and jokingly called Mayes a "cheapskate" for not giving the non-profit group the full $40,000. Smith said he also intends to use a portion of his ward allowance to fund community groups, though for smaller sums of money.
Other members of council said grants for community groups should come from the city's budget, not councillors' offices.