OKing controversial funding policy could be first step in squashing it

Left lingering on the Springwater Township council agenda since Feb. 2, the controversial 'council discretionary fund policy' was passed unanimously last night.

The policy allows each member on council, with the approval of the entire council, to dole out up to $4,000 annually to causes they deem worthy of community funds. For the seven-member council, that’s an additional $28,000 annually that has been earmarked for community support.

Members of council will have access to the money for three of the four years in office — and no funds will be available to councillors during election years.

Coun. Brad Thompson has been opposed to the policy since the get-go, but voted in favour of it Wednesday night at the township’s regular council meeting.

“I just want it over with,” he said. “This has been in front of council for eight months and it’s been a complete distraction, an additional tax levy residents of Springwater don’t need.”

Thompson said his voting in favour of the policy is the first step to squashing it.

When the policy was introduced, he said, there was no oversight — individual councillors could, unilaterally, approve whatever they wanted.

Now, with a policy in place that spells out who is eligible to receive money, how those funds will be administered and how they will be itemized for public scrutiny, Thompson will be able to use the policy against itself.

“Now that we have oversight (council approval), we can kill any request that doesn’t make sense for the community,” he said.

Springwater Mayor Jennifer Coughlin expressed her concerns with the policy a number of times at council.

She said individual councillors didn’t have the authority to allocate funds; that could only to be done by council as a whole. She said the policy, as it was originally drafted, would be in violation of not only the Municipal Act, but also the township’s own procurement policy.

When the policy was tabled in February, some councillors were confused, since they already had a $1,000 discretionary fund.

At the Sept. 6 session of council, Coun. Danielle Alexander requested clarity from Jas Rattigan, the township’s director of finance, as to what claims could be made to the accounts. Alexander said she thought the $1,000 account was for individual councillor expenses, such as office supplies, newsletters or attendance at public events such as golf tournaments or charitable events.

Rattigan confirmed Alexander’s perspective.

“This is not an additional $4,000 expense account for council members,” Alexander said.

Money from the council discretionary fund must be used for community initiatives that are “meaningful, beneficial and worthwhile to residents of the member of council’s ward or the township as a whole, address a community need or contribute to the positive image of the township.”

To be eligible for this money, requests must be made by individuals who reside with Springwater Township or volunteer-based community groups and not-for-profit organizations based in the township or delivering events, programs, projects, activities, or services directly benefiting the residents of the township.

“I think the whole thing was a colossal waste of time,” Thompson said. “We’ve already been approving many of the items that you would expect to see come to us under this policy.

“We don’t need to reinvent what we’re already doing.”

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,