by Tom Fletcher and Vikki Hopes, Abbotsford News
News that adult sport and arts groups are among those who will once again be eligible to apply for grants from the B.C. government’s gambling revenues is being met with optimism in Abbotsford.
Some of these groups, as well as environmental and animal welfare agencies, were made ineligible after the government cut the budget for community grants following the recession of 2008.
They can again apply for grants, but the total fund remains at $135 million, it was announced last Wednesday.
The Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) and the Abbotsford Arts Council are among the local groups hoping to see some of those funds. Both organizations were victims of the previous cuts.
AMHA president Trevor Bamford said the association lost its entire $60,000 gaming grant in 2009, resulting in registration fees having to be hiked and some programming – such as skills development and power skating – having to be reduced.
The grant has since been restored, but there has been no additional funding to account for rising costs, such as ice time and referees.
“We are back to where we are, but we’re still behind the eight ball,” Bamford said.
The Abbotsford Arts Council lost its annual grant of between $20,000 and $26,000 in 2009 and has been struggling to keep up ever since.
“We’re in desperate need of funding,” said Jennifer Henczel, assistant director.
“With the money we have now, we can barely, barely keep up with basic operations and maintain our membership.”
She said office hours and programming have been reduced, resulting in local artists not receiving as much support as they need or want.
Neither the AMHA or Arts Council knows how much funding, if any, they will receive following this year’s application process. Arts and culture, sport and environment groups can apply until Feb. 13, with notification of their grant made by March 31.
Shortly after taking over as premier last year, Christy Clark restored $15 million of the $36 million that was previously cut from the fund, and appointed former Kwantlen University president Skip Triplett to hold hearings around the province.
Clark and Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong released Triplett’s report last week, and promised to keep working on a way to provide multi-year funding for community groups instead of making them apply every year for grants.
Clark said the financial pressure on the B.C. government made it difficult to maintain the grant budget at $135 million, and did not allow restoring it to its 2008 peak of $156 million.
The province will also increase support for other organizations that have experienced funding cuts in the past three years, including fairs, festivals, youth arts and community service, as well as the B.C. Summer Games, she said.
The announcement reverses decisions made by former minister Rich Coleman in March 2010 to focus grants on organizations helping youth and disabled people.
Coleman said the grants were a patchwork that supported some adult groups such as rugby clubs, while adult hockey and other activities received no support.
The B.C. government now takes in about $1 billion a year from casinos, pub games, online gambling and lotteries.
Triplett’s report said the grant program was established in 1998, to replace revenue charitable groups raised by running their own casinos and bingo games.