Sidney gives conditional approval to membership in CRD arts service

Town council wants CRD arts commission to build a way out into its new bylaws.

Sidney will support changes to a regional arts service that could see the Town pay more — but only as long as there are ways for the municipality to get out of it later.

The Town of Sidney is a volunteer member of the Capital Regional District’s Arts Development Commission — which recently decided to change from a committee of the CRD to a commission. As part of that change, the commission has proposed bylaw changes that would see participant municipalities — eight of the 13 capital-area municipalities are members — pay more and make it harder for those members to back out. Neither Central Saanich nor North Saanich are members.

It was that change that had Sidney councillors considering leaving the arts commission and prompted a presentation by Commission Chair Colin Plant and manager James Lam on Monday night.

Plant said it was their intention to try to convince Sidney to stay as a member and address the council’s concerns. He said Sidney’s contribution is part of the commission’s investment in regional arts activities.

The commission each year offers grants to organizations throughout the capital region. This year, 29 groups received a total of $2.15 million in operating grants. While none of those groups are based in Sidney, Plant said they represent a wide range of artistic events that people form the Saanich Peninsula enjoy.

“We make a difference having this service,” Plant said, adding that 38 groups — including one from Sidney — received grants in 2016.

The Commission also gives out Project and IDEAS grants, but at much lower funding levels.

Councillor Tim Chad, a self-professed CRD opponent, says he has been on council from when Sidney contributed $5,000 a year to the arts service to today, and the Town’s annual payment of $15,000.

“Automatically going to the 30 per cent funding level in the future is problematic,” he said.

Chad said he felt that the Town’s money would be better spent on local arts grants. He later added he would consider approving Sidney stay on as a volunteer contributor to the regional arts service — but the higher costs were a deterrent.

There are two funding levels for the CRD arts service. Group one members use a property tax levy, and so-called Group two members (Sidney, Highland and Metchosin) provide up to 30 per cent of what a Group one member would pay.

In Sidney’s case, the Town pays $15,000 — or $1.88 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

By comparison, the next lowest is Highlands at $7.07 and the highest is $30.49 in Oak Bay. The District of Saanich is the biggest contributor, providing more than $1 million to the service each year.

Coun. Peter Wainwright was reluctant to support Sidney’s continued contributions under the commission change.  He said while Sidney’s contribution was “a drop in the bucket,” the new bylaws have no provision to allow members to withdraw from the service. As well, is Sidney is not a member at all, no Sidney arts groups would qualify to apply for any of the grants.

Coun. Barbara Fallot, Sidney’s liaison on the CRD’s arts commission, initially didn’t think she could support Sidney’s continued membership under those conditions. She did, however, point out the large disparity between what Sidney spends on arts and what it spends on      recreation.

Plant had noted that Sidney pays $164.81 per assessed value to Panorama Recreation — and another $4.62 to the CRD’s regional housing trust.

Fallot said more awareness of the arts needs to be fostered in Sidney.

Mayor Steve Price initially asked council to support the commission and maintaining Sidney’s level in the arts service. Doing so would raise the Town’s contribution from $15,000 a year to approximately $38,000.

“There’s no reason for us to pull out,” Price said, “just to prove a point.”

He added council is just seven people and they have to represent the rest of the community, many of whom enjoy arts throughout the region.

Wainwright said that since Sidney is already a member, they could vote to support the arts commission’s new bylaws. However, he was concerned that once they did, there was no way to back out in the future.

“And the rent will always go up,” he said, adding even with more money going from Sidney to the arts service, there is no guarantee any local groups will receive the extra funding.

“Why wouldn’t they want to give us an easy way to leave?” Wainwright asked, noting with a vote weighed in favour of larger municipalities, smaller ones like Sidney could get overruled at every turn.

Price said he felt Sidney residents don’t want them to leave the service. He asked council, in a revised motion, to support the commission’s bylaw changes and stay within the service at its Group two level — conditional on there being withdrawal provisions drawn up by the commission.

“It’s a small amount of money to be a player in the arts,” added Coun. Cam McLennan.

Council approved the motion, Chad being the lone holdout.

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