Councillors are considering a grant of more than $250,000 to the Banook Canoe Club — against the advice of staff.
Regional council’s Audit and Finance Committee voted in favour of the request from the Dartmouth institution on Thursday, recommending council approve the grant.
The canoe club requested the funding in June 2022 to support the renovation of its clubhouse and the surrounding grounds. It’s also asking HRM for a grant to offset its building permit fees. In total, the contribution would be $267,500.
Peta-Jane Temple is the team lead of grants and contributions at HRM. She recommended in a report to the committee that council direct Banook’s request to the usual grant process instead.
“While the historical significance of the Banook Canoe Club and its clubhouse is acknowledged, the timing of their request for funding … comes at a time when the Halifax Regional Municipality (‘HRM’) is facing exceptional financial pressures, due in part to economic factors beyond HRM’s control,” Temple wrote.
“Consequently, an ability to provide capital grants outside an established municipal grant program is compromised.”
The request came to the same meeting as HRM’s third quarter 2022-2023 financial report, which forecasted a deficit of $730,500 for end of the fiscal year. That’s attributed to high fuel costs and low deed transfer tax and building permit revenue.
Banook representative ‘disappointed’
Geoff Bennett, facilities director at Banook, told the committee the club was “disappointed.” Bennett said the club wouldn’t be able to access this kind of funding through the usual grant process.
“This is practically impossible. Our expenditures would not be eligible for most of these programs, funding allocations are too small, and timeframes would be prohibitive for a project already facing significant inflationary pressures,” Bennett said.
“This is the most significant renovation project for Banook Canoe Club in its 120-year history. Expenditures are focused on safety, accessibility, and stabilizing the building to protect it from significant runoff from surrounding HRM lands. Other orders of government have recognized the importance of the project and are supporting it financially. It is important that HRM recognize the significance and be a funding partner.”
The club has more than $3 million from other orders of government, mostly from the province. Banook estimates the full project will cost more than $4.5 million, Bennett said, and HRM’s contribution would be 5.9%.
Mayor, deputy mayor argue money well spent
“What we’ve been asked for is fairly little, and I would argue the public gets a big public benefit out of this,” Mayor Mike Savage said.
Savage said HRM pays for sports infrastructure like rinks and soccer fields, and this is no different.
“We don’t have the kind of money coming into us that the provincial governments have and that the feds would have right now,” Savage said. “But I think the payback on this is not long term, I think it’s short term. I think it’s very beneficial in a lot of different areas. Not just the physical activity it provides, but the economic, cultural, and social benefit of the community.”
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin is also the councillor for Dartmouth Centre. He said this isn’t a regular proposal and doesn’t lend itself well to the regular grant program.
“They’re trying to take a very old building that needs some work and really modernize it so it’s good so it will serve our needs for the next 100 or so years,” Austin said.
Precedent setting contribution?
Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon said she worried about setting a precedent. Temple warned about that the report.
“There are a lot of really good projects that are around HRM that want to see some funding,” Deagle Gammon said.
Deagle Gammon raised some other concerns Temple covered in the report as well. For example, Temple wrote that the club should have HRM engineers’ approval to do any work on the land it licenses from the municipality. Deagle Gammon suggested making that a condition of the funding.
“There’s no doubt, the value of the Banook Canoe Club to the community and to the history of Dartmouth,” Deagle Gammon said.
“I think just making sure that all the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed and HRM is protected in a lot of ways as well as the canoe club, making sure that when we get challenged, and we will, on precedent-setting behaviour, that that we know that we’ve done all of the due diligence.”
Coun. Shawn Cleary disagreed council would be setting any precedent.
“Every individual discrete request that comes here is just that,” Cleary said.
The committee defeated the staff recommendation. Savage moved to recommend council provide the funding with the conditions Deagle Gammon mentioned from Temple’s report. The money would come from HRM’s option reserve, essentially its savings account. The motion passed unanimously.
Council as a whole will consider the contribution at a future meeting.