The District of Sooke has eliminated a fund supporting community organizations as it struggles with diminishing revenues against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis.
The community grants program was set at $65,000 this year, and the 31 request for funds exceed the budget by $96,784.60.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait urged councillors at the April 14 council meeting to cancel the grants program for 2020, with a possibility of bringing it back in 2021.
“We need to find savings for our constituents and our community rights now.” she said.
“I’m struggling with community grant program. This is taxpayers dollars and our community and residents are in a crisis.”
Several councillors looked at the possibility of reworking the program to focus it toward COVID-19 relief projects, with grants going to organizations such as the Sooke Food Bank, but changed their views when hearing Tait’s plea.
Coun. Tony St-Pierre, who voted against cancelling the program, presented the idea of revamping it towards easing the burden of the pandemic.
“I like the idea of a COVID grant process,” he said. “I accept the fact we have a lot people in rough shape. Providing money to community groups to help those having hard time is a better way of leveraging our tax dollars,” he said.
Tait said it would be unfair to put a COVID emphasis on grant applications.
“We would need to create an entirely different grant program focused on COVID-19. It would be complete restart to the program.”
Coun. Ebony Logins said many groups receiving funding from the district also receive money from other organizations, such as the Victoria Foundation and the United Way.
The Victoria Foundation raised $1 million over the last month for COVID-19 relief, and donated $40,000 to the Sooke Food Bank and $10,000 to the Sooke Family Resource Society’s rapid relief fund.
Sooke municipal staff is also looking at other areas of the district budget that can be cut, including community service agreements, capital projects and purchases.
“We have to focus on what is essential to our community to get through this [pandemic],” Tait said.
“I think our community will expect us to make those decisions. So when it comes to essential services, it’s about keeping the waste water running, keeping our roads maintained, and keeping our parks safe.”