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Grants to cultural centre still under review

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Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma

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More than $300,000 in community incentive grants to the Punjab Cultural Centre remain under review as city officials work to determine whether or not councillors eliminated a funding cap built into the grant program when it was created over 27 years ago.

Coun. Scott Fielding, who chairs the city’s protection and services committee, said administrators will rule whether or not a $225,000 funding cap was eliminated when councillors voted on changes to the program last July.

"There were a number of changes recommended that were adopted," said Fielding.

The changes followed a city council decision in January 2012 to use $10,000 from the community incentive grant fund to help the University of Manitoba move a piece of art from the former airport terminal to its Fort Garry campus.

When the program was set up in 1985, it was meant for councillors to hand out to non-profit sport groups in the community taking on capital projects, such as community centres and arenas.

Among the changes last year, councillors endorsed broadening the definition of groups and projects eligible to receive funding under the programming. For example, groups can now apply for funds to help cover capital assets like tractors or snowblowers to maintain property.

Council also voted to keep a program requirement stipulating the grants can cover no more than 50% of a total project’s cost. However, according to council minutes, there is no mention of eliminating or keeping the program’s $225,000 funding cap, which was boosted from $100,000 in 1994.

Under the program’s rules, anything over and above these limits must be approved by city council.

The funding cap is mentioned on the city’s website and in official grant program brochures, including its application, online.

Since January of this year, 14 councillors have individually endorsed $305,000 worth of community incentive grants to the Punjab Cultural Centre being built at 1770 King Edward St. behind Red River College.

That’s about one-fifth of the $1.5 million in funding available for 2013 and has drawn sharp criticism from local sport groups and political watchdogs like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Though the project is located in the St. James-Brooklands ward, the largest slice of funding came from Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma, who granted the project $50,000, or 50% of her funds for this year.

Sharma says the project has support from many of her constituents across her ethnically diverse ward who will use the facility when it opens later this summer.

"Almost every ward in the city has given money," Sharma said, noting many immigrants from India settle in the northwest part of the city.

"It’s an important project for the City of Winnipeg."

Conversations about financially supporting the project began as early as April 2012, when Sharma says she attended a fundraising event for the centre, which is raising more than $1.2 million of its own cash to help cover the $9.1-million cost. Other councillors were at the event, Sharma said.

Sharma wouldn’t answer whether she thought it was unfair that a single group has received a sizeable chunk of funds from the program.

"I look at each project on its merit and do my due diligence," said Sharma.

"I put a lot of thought in, and exhaust all avenues of other funding until I make my decision."

Fielding has said councillors have discretion whether or not they want to award grants to projects outside their wards.

Mayor Sam Katz declined to comment on the issue.

matt.preprost@canstarnews.com

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