Some Okotoks town councillors are calling for a policy to guide decisions for frequent requests for community sponsorship.
Organizations running fundraising events often approach the Town for financial assistance, whether through purchasing tickets to galas, participating in golf tournaments or other activities, providing auction items, or waiving facility rental fees.
Between Jan. 25, 2016 and Jan. 9, 2017, Okotoks council approved a total of $14,035.81 in donations to events like the Grate Groan Up Spelling Bee, the Foothills Country Hospice and Rowan House Emergency Shelters galas, the Jerseys and Jeans fundraiser for Okotoks Minor Hockey and the Okotoks Dawgs 10th anniversary banquet.
Coun. Tanya Thorn said the Town needs to establish rules for how these donations are handled.
“We’ve come a long way since I got on council,” said Thorn. “We used to just carte blanche buy a table to an event, regardless of whether any of the councillors at the table could attend. But, we’ve at least now got to taking a straw poll of who can go.”
Administration brought forward a policy three years ago, but council couldn’t come to a consensus and nothing was approved.
The matter is now sitting back in council’s hands, said Thorn.
She intends to look at it in the coming year and draft what she believes the policy should be, to get the conversation started again.
Ultimately, she said it comes down to what the taxpayer should be paying for.
“I’m not 100 per cent convinced that it requires, if all of us go, that the taxpayer should pay for all eight of us to attend a fundraising event,” said Thorn.
“And, more importantly, I’m not sure the taxpayers should be on the line to pay for my spouse to go. That for me is where the borderline is.”
She said it does make sense for councillors, as local politicians, to support charity events in the community, but the level of sponsorship or expense to the Town should be monitored.
Donation requests that are approved are funded from council emergent matters/public relations budget, which Thorn said isn’t right for a few reasons.
Requests for events held earlier in the year are more likely to be funded than events in the fall because the budget has been depleted.
“If you’ve got an event in November, depending on what else we’ve said yes to, your event is most likely going to hear no, because we don’t have the money,” said Thorn. “I don’t believe that’s the right method to do it.”
Additionally, she said it doesn’t entirely make sense for donations to come out of the Council Emergent Matters budget.
“Providing sponsorship or buying tickets to go to the hospice gala really isn’t a council emergent matter, it’s fundraising or sponsorship, so shouldn’t it be an actual budget line item on its own so we call it what it is?” said Thorn.
She said emergent matters should be issues that arise unexpectedly and require immediate action, but don’t have another budget area to come out of, not sponsorship requests.
It’s a matter of transparency, she said.
Coun. Matt Rockley agrees.
He said it’s important for councillors and the mayor to participate in town fundraisers and support the community, but that it shouldn’t be the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for those things.
For him, it’s a matter of ethics.
“I think charitable giving should be a person’s personal decision and that it isn’t appropriate for the Town to collect money from people and then to redistribute some of that money to charities,” said Rockley.
“I still support and attend and buy tickets for the event, I just purchase my own tickets instead of having it come through the Town budget.”
He said the sponsorship requests he does support are ones requesting a waiver of fees for facility rental, such as providing the Okotoks Recreation Centre at no charge to Okotoks Minor Hockey for its annual Jerseys and Jeans fundraiser.
“It’s lost revenue, but it’s not really additional costs to the taxpayer,” said Rockley.
“It’s not redistributing somebody’s property tax dollars to a charity.”
Coun. Ken Heemeryck said he has no problem supporting community events and purchasing tickets for councillors to attend. It’s important to be involved in the community as a municipality, he said.
“I think Okotoks as a corporation should invest back into the community, similar to how other private corporations do in Okotoks,” said Heemeryck.
“I don’t think councillors need to attend, but I look at it more globally as the Town of Okotoks supporting the community.”
Though a policy could help make some decisions and keep the budget in-check, he said, dealing with requests one at a time works well, too.
“I think it’s quite easy to handle as they come up,” said Heemeryck. “A policy is so difficult to implement.”