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Woolwich tightens belt on grants

Woolwich social services agencies feeling the squeeze in this economy aren’t likely to find much help from the township, which is facing its own financial issues.

The recipients of the two largest grants both appeared at council Tuesday night asking for large raises; Woolwich Community Services (WCS) went away with four per cent more, while the Woolwich Counselling Centre (WCC) saw its grant return to historic levels, cutting last year’s rate by half. Council left the door open, however, to consider the requests when formal discussions begin on the 2010 budget.

The decision was in keeping with deputy clerk Val Hummel’s report suggesting a small decrease in the township’s grants and special assistance budget, down $1,000 from last year to $25,251. Total grant requests for next year exceeded $42,000, mostly due to the funds sought by WCS and WCC.

Looking for $12,162, a 30-per-cent jump over its 2009 grant, WCS will receive $9,744, up four per cent. The counselling centre had requested $15,000, a 50-per-cent increase over 2009; WCC had received $10,000 in 2009 and 2008 as a special consideration to help the organization with its move to a new facility. The $5,000 approved in the 2010 grants list returns the group to its 2007 level.

That decision did not come without a struggle, however. Councillors Sandy Shantz and Ruby Weber argued for at least $10,000 for WCC, resulting in a 3-2 split vote.

Casting the deciding vote, Mayor Bill Strauss called the WCC request disappointing, noting he supported the jump to $10,000 in the past two years but only as a temporary measure.

“Dollars are going to be scarce this budget year,” he said.

Both the counselling centre and WCS pointed to increased demand, largely due to the economic downturn, as the reason for their inflated requests.

“Thirty per cent. Wow, it sounds like a big number – really, what it amounts to is $2,700,” WCS executive director Don Harloff told councillors.

That 30 per cent would maintain Woolwich’s share of the community information centre program at its historical level of 13 per cent of the overall budget – demand for the services have grown, requiring the expanded budget.

The information centre is a “one-stop shop” for services available to the residents of the township. It serves as a gateway for some social services, employment insurance and a variety of other services such as passport applications. Computerization, ironically, has led to more work. Instead of residents coming in to pick up a form – a birth certificate application, for instance – and then heading back out, now someone from WCS is helping them fill out the forms online, using one of the centre’s computers, he explained, estimating the agency serves about 4,500 township residents each year.

Weber suggested the agency might have to scale back its assistance with things like helping people fill out forms, noting some of those people could afford to pay for that assistance.

“Do we have to offer the top level of service?” asked Coun. Mark Bauman, noting staff time could be better spent on other work.

Some sacrifices are going to be necessary with the 2010 budget, he added.

“My goal is to see us coming in with a budget increase of four per cent or less.”

The remaining organizations on the township’s grants list will receive the same amount as in 2009, including $4,000 to Community Care Concepts, which provides support services for seniors. Also quickly approved were grants of $760 for the Breslau Bloomingdale Maryhill Concert Band; $660 for the Historical Society of St. Boniface and Maryhill; $550 for District 26 of the Ontario Seniors Games; $1,637 in support of the regional police safety patroller program in Woolwich schools; and $500 for the Elmira and District Association for Community Living. A figure of $2,400 was set aside to deal with special assistance or travel grants that may be requested during the year, up $500.

While not formally debated, the township has also received notice from the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival that it may be seeking a grant of $5,000 to help with increased operating costs. In initial discussions, however, councillors appeared reluctant about that prospect.

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