The RDN reviewed the Northern Community Economic Development grants to determine whether it is achieving the goals that were set when the program was established in 2012.
The NCED was formed to serve Electoral Areas E, F, G and H, as well as the City of Parksville and Town of Qualicum Beach. It has a budget of $50,000 annually and funds a variety of projects by community-based organizations.
A select committee ensures the funds requisitioned for the service are directed to best serve the residents in the service area. The program was establish to support local organizations that have initiatives that contribute to strengthening the local economy.
One of the mandates of the select committee is to undertake an annual review of the program and objectives. A review was supposed to happen in 2016 but the committee decided not to hold one and instead perform it in 2018.
Since the service was created, 35 different projects have been funded totalling $257,622. Organizations from Qualicum Beach benefited the most as they received 46 per cent of this funding, Parksville groups took 30 per cent and the total combined funding allocated to the electoral areas was 24 per cent.
The average grant handed out was roughly $6,842. The maximum grant approved by the NCED was $15,000 on three occasions to Qualicum Beach for airport development projects such as the fuel spill containment at aircraft refuelling pumps. The minimum amount of funds doled out was $2,000 to the Lighthouse Country Business Association and the Oceanside Women’s Business Network.
The select committee at its Feb. 15 meeting heard a report by Paul Thompson, RDN’s Manager for long term planning, that includes information on how groups have been accessing the program, how it has benefited the areas served, and how the service is delivered.
Thompson highlighted some deficiencies in the program and also provided recommendations on how to address them.
One of the problems Thompson identified, is that majority of the groups are unable to provide a summary report to the NCED committee outlining how their allocated program funding was applied and whether objectives of their projects were achieved.
The RDN has received nearly 50 per cent of summary reports from NCED recipients, which staff requires to determine and quantify the benefits of the NCED program. For the funds used for employment and skills training programs, staff indicated that detailed information on the number of jobs created, increase in sales or visitor spending have not been available.
Among other issues raised was whether putting a $5,000 cap on the program is warranted. Electoral Area H Director Bill Veenhof does not agree that there should be a limit.
“We are not going to hurt ourselves by doing that,” he said. “The risk in putting a limit on is that you do get that $15,000 and asked that you look at it and say ‘holy smoke that is a big deal and it will make a big difference.’ I prefer no limit.”
Bob Rogers, Electoral Area E director, said not all applications are equal and that the value of each requests for funds is to be reviewed by the committee based on staff recommendation.
As well, the committee discussed how the NCED can be integrated with other programs to eliminate duplication with other RDN funding.
At the end of the review, the committee voted to continue the NCED program with some modifications to improve the allocation of the services. That include withdrawing the $5,000 limit per applicant, that staff evaluation be part of the application process, that the NCED committee hold two funding intakes per year, and applicants must align their proposed project to an economic benefit in the community.
Staff was directed to develop reporting criteria, including a requirement that each grant recipient report back to the committee before being allowed to apply for further funding with the NCED.