4H Club surprised by grant increase

NANAIMO – Councillor calls for clear guidelines on criteria for funding

A cash-strapped Nanaimo petting farm could open next season, thanks to a funding reversal by city officials.

Nanaimo city council voted unanimously Monday to give the Cedar 4H Club more than $4,300 to run the Beban barnyard next year, despite an earlier decision to wean the organization off grant funding.

According to city officials, the group is slated to see Nanaimo’s $5,000 annual contribution trimmed back by $1,000 each year because it no longer qualifies for development grant money. But recreation members hit pause on the reductions for next season when no other group applied for the same funding pot.

Barnyard supervisor Linda Barnett is “shell shocked” by the grant increase over last year, which she says could allow the barnyard to open again this summer. It was facing an uncertain future because of financial challenges.

“I had hoped we’d get at least $3,000 this year because that is what I was led to believe. To have that just about fully reinstated is a big wow on my end,” Barnett said. “I am not very often at a loss for words but I am definitely at a loss for words. It’s just sinking in.”

Cedar 4H Club members have been grappling with funding issues for the past year. They already saw losses to provincial funding and business donations when the city announced it would scale back funding to encourage the club to be more self-sufficient.

Community donations helped the barnyard open its doors last year. This season it will see a funding break from the City of Nanaimo. But Barnett said the  uncertainty around the future contributions is still “highly disappointing.”

The agricultural club has been receiving grant money for the last 25 years after agreeing to take over the petting farm from the municipality. It pays for two-thirds of the $15,000 bill to run the summer employment and petting farm program – an initiative aimed at giving back to the community. That the city wants the club to pay for the initiative completely is a “slap in the face,” Barnett said.

But Coun. Ted Greves, chairman of the recreation committee, said the problem isn’t value – it’s criteria.

The group is “a no man’s land” when it comes to being eligible for city funding. It has been getting money from a community development grant that it applies for annually, but it doesn’t qualify.

The program is meant for organizations just starting out and the barnyard – run since 1988 – is “developed,” Greves said. “It’s almost turned into a line item thing for parks, recreation and culture. It’s not really what [the grant is] supposed to be for.”

The city councillor thought the dollar increase this year sent the wrong message to a group that was supposed to see funding reductions. He plans to bring forward recommendations that the city change its policy to make grant criteria clear for everyone – or toss out guidelines altogether.

“Something has to be done. There is no question,” Greves said.