Leaders of local non-profit groups were checking their bank accounts and scratching their heads last week after the town approved a new policy for handing out grants in aid.
While some people expressed concern the updated policy – which requires applications to be accompanied by audited financial statements – could cripple small organizations, councillors backing the move offered reassurance.
“The staff at town hall can be approached at any time with any of these concerns and there’s no way any of our good volunteers are going to be hung out to dry,” said councillor Kim Maynard in an interview with The Spotlight.
Jon Bartlett, who runs with Princeton Traditional Music Festival with his wife Rika Ruebsaat, said the policy overreaches.
“The feds don’t ask for an audit, the gaming people don’t ask for an audit and the RDOS doesn’t ask for an audit.”
Bartlett said the organization already presents financial statements with its annual audit request, but the cost of an audit would seriously undermines the benefit of the $2,000 the festival receives from the town.
“We get $2,000 and we give them back $300 for a business license so effectively we get $1,700. That’s the sum that we would get charged by an auditor to audit our accounts so effectively we would get nothing.”
The Spotlight contacted several regular grant in aid recipients, but few were willing to comment, for the record, on the policy.
In 2016 the Town of Princeton gave out $63,000 in grants in aid.
Councillor Jerome Tjerkstra said he was informed a non-profit audit would cost about $700.
“Obviously there is some flexibility built around a small organization that is just staring out. Obviously the cost of the audit would be too much and the town is more than happy to exercise some flexibility around that.”
The revised policy ¬ – which reworks a plan designed in 2009 – stresses in clear language that the grant in aid program is not meant to be a long-term revenue stream for local groups.
“Talk to us. With your next request for a grant it would be a great benefit if you sat down with someone from the town and laid out what your plan is for achieving self sufficiency…We are there to work with you to find your way forward.”
Tara Atkinson, a local entrepreneur and a director of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is working on a strategy that could bring local non profits “under the umbrella of the chamber” in order to help them access support, grant money and resources.
“We were working on that before, but this would be an especially good time,” she said.
Speaking not as a chamber representative, but as someone who’s family members have volunteered for many years in town, she said it’s not reasonable to expect small groups to have to worry about funding, when they can’t find enough bodies to run their events.
“This community was built on the backs of volunteers. Volunteers built the fairgrounds, they built the golf club and they built the curling rink.”
Ruebsaat, who is also the president of the Princeton Museum, noted the grant in aid that organization receives each year should really fall under a different line in the municipal budget.
“I have said to the town that we would like to have, rather than applying every year for a grant, we would like to have a secure line of funding that we can count on…I would say there are better ways from an administrative point of view, and we should explore them both from the town’s position and the museum’s position.”
The new grant policy – like the old one – places a $10,000 cap on grants, although the museum routinely gets $26,000 and the Princeton Posse usually receives $15,000.
“The policy hasn’t always been followed,” agreed Maynard. “’We’ve always done it that way’ just doesn’t fly anymore…We are concerned as it is our responsibility managing the town’s finances we must make sure that funds are spent appropriately.”