PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Niagara Falls council on Tuesday sidestepped dealing with the controversial fees for service budget item – one that befuddles and splits politicians every year – until they have more information on revenues.
The city funds 15 various agencies to provide direct services on its behalf, organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara, Project SHARE or Niagara Falls Tourism, and staff recommends that continue. But some councillors are again wondering why the local municipality should give money to these groups when it can’t afford to fix its roads and sewers.
Coun. Joyce Morocco said the $2.56 million budgeted in the fees for service column should be cut at least in half.
“We can’t pass this until we see the revenues because if we have to start cutting I think fee for services is where we start,” Morocco said. “I don’t think we should be in the business of funding a lot of these organizations. Some of it is very heart-wrenching, but as I look here there are a few that we have to start saying, ‘That’s it.’ We have to start decreasing the funding and start focusing on what our real goals are, and that’s our infrastructure.
“I hope we can take a strong look here and decrease it by at least half.”
The fees for service budget would jump by $160,000 in 2013 as proposed by staff. Much of that is due to an estimated increase to the Chair a Van program for transporting dialysis patients to the new facility on Queen Street. Chair a Van would receive $599,955. Others topping the list include $360,000 to Niagara Falls Tourism, $342,000 to the Winter Festival of Lights, $298,000 to Project SHARE, $192,800 to the Boys and Girls Club.
Finance director Todd Harrison said three program are funded due to legislation or because the city has a contractual obligation: $452,542 to the Humane Society, $96,101 to the Niagara District Airport Commission and $38,550 to the Niagara Falls Illumination Board.
Niagara Falls Coun. Carolynn Ionnoni sided with Morocco. Ioannoni routinely opposes fees for service and routinely her motions on the topic are defeated.
“I have voted against this in the budget every year. I’d like to know what the province deems us responsible for. These fee for services, they are not things we are mandated to provide, these are things we have chosen to do.
“Most of these are social services which are not our tier and which we have taken on from other levels of government because they didn’t do it. Maybe we should send them back to the tiers they belong to and let those tiers fund it. I’m not saying they don’t deserve their funding. I’m just saying we cant afford to run our own house we shouldn’t be giving money away.
“We have a lot of money that we give away so that other people can run their organizations when we can’t afford to run our own organization. There’s no sense to that.”
A couple of councillors spoke to the moral obligation of continuing to fund groups that provide services deemed important to the public.
“We have a responsibility here to look after our community and particularly at this time when there are serious problems out there with the economy and job markets,” said Coun. Wayne Thomson.
The city has separated groups that receive public money into two categories: fees for service and grants. A fee-for-service group provides services the city doesn’t want to, or can’t, pay for on its own. Chief administrator Ken Todd said fee for service groups enter into contracts with the city while those receiving grants do not.
Fees for service will be debated in final budget deliberations. It will be the same for grants. Staff is recommending the city get out of the grant business altogether, cutting the budget from $17,841 in 2012 to $11,893 in 2013 and eventually taking it to zero.
In the grant category, Stamford Lions have requested $6,000, Niagara Falls Badminton Club $10,000, Niagara Falls Lawn Bowling $4,000, Niagara District Art Association $5,343 and Community Artists Niagara $30,000. Staff recommends all receive less than they want, and rejects in total the request from Community Artists Niagara.