Whitehorse not-for-profits have been given a reprieve.
City council unanimously agreed on Monday to continue to give these groups – which range from the MacBride Museum of Yukon History to Hospice Yukon – ongoing grants to help pay property taxes and utilities fees.
In doing so, council rejected a plan proposed by the city administration that would have seen an across-the-board cut of 12 per cent to these grants in order to stay within budget. Instead, council agreed to dip into general reserves to provide an additional $20,000 for the grants. That brings total spending on the community services grants to $160,000.
“We’re extremely relieved,” said Nancy Oakley, executive director of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association Tuesday afternoon. The organization represents museums across the territory, including the Transportation Museum, the Old Log Church Museum and the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. The association had been worried the change in this year’s funding would open the door for more cuts in the future.
She appeared before council on Monday night to ask that passing the bylaw be delayed to give organizations more time to tell council their concerns.
“This move raises a lot of questions,” Oakley told council. The association didn’t get much warning that their funding could be reduced, she said. Museums are already watching their federal funding being slashed or cut altogether, she said.
“These property tax exemptions are not money wasted, but rather can be viewed as very real investments into institutions that are of great social and economic value to our community,” Oakley said Monday night.
But not-for-profits are not exempt from paying taxes, Coun. John Streicker pointed out before the vote. The city just gives them money they can use to pay these taxes.
And Mayor Dan Curtis was quick to note the financial support Whitehorse gives museums. The city gives nearly $49,000 to the MacBride Museum and the Yukon Transportation Museum to help them pay property taxes.
“We keep on talking about MacBride Museum,” said Curtis. “They’re excellent at what they do. But they’re also excellent lobbyists.” No one from organizations like Kaushee’s Place, the Yukon Association of Community Living or Hospice Yukon came forward to express concerns to council, he said.
But that doesn’t mean they weren’t worried, said Coun. Mike Gladish.
“The smaller organizations are probably quite afraid of the fact that they might be paying taxes,” he said. “I don’t think we should be looking at these groups as a source of funding for our taxes.”
Coun. Dave Stockdale told his fellow councillors he’d been against the reduction from the beginning, but wanted time to hear what the public had to say about the reductions. Not giving $19,000 to various not-for-profits after deciding to give nearly $200,000 to pay the remaining debts on Mount Sima’s chairlift “seems kind of weird,” he said.
But the city still has more work to do. Much of the discussion about this year’s grants had to do with the city’s policies. Under the city’s Community Services Grants policy, registered charities that primarily give services to the needy are eligible for money. These grants are based on the amount of property taxes each group pays.
But this policy’s formula doesn’t apply to every group the city gives cash to. Some organizations, including various museums like MacBride, have historically been given money even though they technically don’t meet the criteria for the grant. Others groups have their own leases with the city. Grants for these organizations are determined on a case-by-case basis.
The city will be reviewing all of its grants and the policies for them, said Robert Fendrick, director of corporate services. “It’s not an easy process,” he said. Some policies are new, while others are very old. Under the review, some groups may get more money, while others may get less. This review will take several months and should be ready for the upcoming budget year. The city will be asking different groups for input, but is still determining how it will do that.
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