How many times have we seen Hamilton politicians heap praise on residents for their unwavering volunteerism? And how many times have opportunistic councillors, during council meetings or at city-sponsored events, launched into applause for residents and organizations that spend countless hours and their own money doing something to benefit their neighbourhood?
So where are those same politicians when community groups are struggling to pay for their community events after city funding has been slashed because of some arcane policy, or budget goal?
Apparently, about three years ago, those same councillors determined there needed to be a “realignment” of city funding resources to community groups. That gobbledegook excuse means precious funding grants to community organizations that pay for festivals was cut as politicians race to get to their Holy Grail of zero per cent tax increase. It seems the city didn’t want to keep paying for policing costs and setting up barricades for parades.
Even while those funding reductions are merely pennies on a billion-dollar city operation, it has been felt like a cold slap to the faces of volunteer groups who toil in anonymity to make sure community events are bigger and brighter than the year before, but at less cost.
That is what happened to the Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade volunteers. Like parade volunteers in Waterdown, Stoney Creek volunteers were facing nearly $13,000 in extra policing and road closure costs to hold the 2012 parade. The threat of scrubbing the parade was very real, until Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark managed to secure $15,000 in funding, which will continue for the next two years.
All local festival organizers are impacted by these higher costs created by the city. But Stoney Creek volunteers received a double shock. Because they received that $15,000, which paid for the city’s extra costs, city staff decided to withhold the Community Partnership Program grant organizers had applied for because it had received the extra money.
“It makes you wonder why you do it,” said Rob Naylor, a Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade volunteer.
Other organizers see an ulterior motive behind city hall’s strategy: an attempt to starve suburban community groups of funds so their local events disappear.
Whether that scenario is simply the work of frustrated minds, the reality is Hamilton politicians and city staff can’t continue to be so hypocritical to volunteer organizers. If they are going to praise unsung community volunteers who do the vital, but dirty work needed to celebrate neighbourhoods, then they must provide the necessary money to make those projects economically viable. Santa Claus parades, festivals, and other community events are successful because of the grit, determination and skill of local residents. But the grease that make them work is the very limited tax dollars that city hall delivers in ever lessening dollops.
As councillors and staff throw up their hands at losing $246,000 to an Ottawa-based contractor for improbable mistakes in the citizen engagement process, and as councillors continue to throw money at hiring snow plow operators who refuse to work, just remember that there are important and necessary projects occurring in every community backyard that needs financial help.
Closing off the financial spigot is a quick way to eliminate community spirit, fuel animosity towards city hall and destroy whatever bridges politicians had attempted to build in the aftermath of amalgamation.
The city is well versed in wasting bushels of money. Providing funds to community groups aren’t wasteful, it’s a necessity to grow the entire city of Hamilton.