County presses pause on CCRC funding - Jan. 12, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County Council is pressing the pause button on funding set aside for the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity (CCRC) in Blyth after the centre failed to meet several county conditions.
The county was due to release the first $100,000 installment of its $500,000 grant to Blyth Arts & Cultural Initiative 14/19, but Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard said she couldn’t do so without exceeding her authority. Those behind Blyth 14/19 had failed to meet a handful of conditions related to the funding, so in order to release the funds, Orchard said she needed council’s authorization.
Orchard told councillors at their Jan. 4 meeting that the Blyth-based group has failed to submit a detailed business plan for the CCRC, and failed to secure partnerships that would ensure the centre will be recognized on a national scale.
Orchard and members of her staff, however, recommended that the county release the first of five annual $100,000 installments to help Blyth 14/19 meet those conditions, especially considering that Blyth 14/19 had been counting on the funding.
“Staff recognize that business decisions have been made by Blyth 14/19 during the course of the year in anticipation of the county’s funding and they are relying on the first installment in order to pay for Blyth 14/19 operational costs with respect to management overhead and architectural costs,” said Treasurer Michael Blumhagen in his report to council.
Council, however, saw it differently, saying that if Blyth 14/19 failed to meet the county’s condition, then the money should not be released.
Orchard told councillors that she and her staff had been requesting a detailed business plan for the centre, but instead received accounting information for Blyth 14/19, the initiative’s umbrella organization.
In addition, the partnership condition was crucial she said. If the centre was going to brand itself as national, partnerships with organizations like the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Stratford Festival and the Shaw Festival, to name a few, would be necessary to not only lend legitimacy to the project, but to secure funding on a national scale.
Those behind the centre had failed to secure those memorandums of understanding, which was another condition that went unmet.
Huron East Mayor Bernie MacLellan, who is also a member of the Economic Development Board, said that 14/19 Project Manager Peter Smith had attempted to meet with him to iron out these details, but weather and conflicting schedules prevented a meeting.
Past-Warden Paul Gowing said that the process of attempting to help the CCRC meet the county’s conditions certainly didn’t go as well as he or county staff had hoped.
He said he had “great concern” with how things had gone and told councillors that he felt the county should be “cautious on how [they] move forward.”
Several councillors felt that because the county’s conditions hadn’t been met, that the grant should simply be cancelled, while others were more inclined to find a way to work with Smith and the CCRC.
MacLellan suggested giving the CCRC perhaps a 30-day period to meet the conditions, at which time the funds would be released.
Orchard told councillors that she and staff had essentially been recommending something along those lines, but that the first installment of $100,000 could be used to craft a business plan and put those partnerships in place, which meant the organization would meet the conditions.
Goderich Deputy-Mayor Jim Donnelly, however, related the failure to meet the conditions to his own path to the decision. He said that when the funding was up for debate, he voted against it, but when it was voted in, it became the “will of council” which meant he was obligated to support it. He then would expect the CCRC to meet the conditions set forth by the county just as he met the conditions in his decision-making process.
Orchard said there would be no way that the CCRC could pull together the kind of business plan the county would need in order to do its due diligence in 30 or even 60 days, which is why she felt that the $100,000 could be used to bring the CCRC up to snuff in terms of conditions it needed to meet.
If those conditions were not met then in time for the second installment to be released, she said, there would have to be a very serious discussion.
Howick’s Art Versteeg agreed with Orchard, saying he was concerned that if council were to pull the funding, funding the organization had been counting on, it could derail the entire project.
He likened discontinuing the funding to a “snowball rolling downhill” saying that if council were to stop the funding, it would hold back resources that would help the CCRC to succeed.
Bluewater Mayor Tyler Hessel fell somewhere in the middle, saying that he wasn’t in favour of releasing any of the funds until conditions had been met, but was open to hearing again from the CCRC.
Hessel suggested that representatives from the CCRC should return to council and if they need money for a consultant or for another professional to craft a business plan, council can consider that request on its own merit, independent of the grant request.
MacLellan continued to compromise along Hessel’s line of reasoning, suggesting that the county release $50,000, half of the first installment, in order to help the CCRC bring themselves into compliance.
Hessel, however, disagreed with MacLellan, saying he was very specific with his suggestion. If the CCRC needs more money to meet the conditions, he said he wanted to hear from them and he wanted to know what it was going to cost.
His concern, he said, would be how the money would be spent unless it was specifically directed by the county, which led to a discussion regarding the breakdown of CCRC funds.
Treasurer Michael Blumhagen told councillors that the full Blyth 14/19 plan has a budget of $14 million, half of which has already been raised.
Much of the funds, however, are specifically allocated to the renovations at Memorial Hall, which are already underway. Independent donors account for $1.3 million of what has already been raised, while the provincial government accounts for $3.3 million and the federal government contributed $980,000. North Huron will contribute $500,000, as will the county, followed by contributions from the Blyth Festival and others.
The $980,000 from the federal government, Blumhagen said, had to go towards the Memorial Hall renovations, so the same amount of money was reallocated from the provincial grant for Memorial Hall to the development of the CCRC. Those funds, he said, will go towards the architect, which is why the plans need to be complete by April, a condition of the grant.
Once the plans are shelf-ready by April, Blumhagen said, the remaining $7 million of the project will go towards the construction of the Grant and Mildred Sparling Centre on the site of the former Blyth Public School.
None of the funding that has already been collected, he said, is earmarked for the construction of the new centre.
The money that would be contributed by the county, Blumhagen said, is earmarked for salaries and administration. The $500,000 over five years would go to pay Project Director Peter Smith and Administrator Karen Stewart, as well as other administrative costs associated with the project.
Council then passed a motion requesting that representatives from Blyth 14/19 return to council and update councillors on the state of the project, as well as its needs going forward in order to meet the county’s conditions. The motion carried.