By Deb O’Connor
Two recent announcements about special projects should raise questions about whether the public gets full value for their money when taxpayers fund local agencies. In addition to core funding provided to operate programs, agencies are constantly applying for special project funding from other sources to do more. But do these bodies actually do more or is the extra money being spent simply to do what they are mandated to do in the first place? The following examples seem to suggest there’s some of that going on locally.
At Northumberland County Council on Jan. 19th, representatives of a pilot project called “Northumberland Cares for Children” made a presentation. With the Northumberland Child Development Centre playing a lead role, both boards of education and the county teamed up with them as organizing partners to develop this initiative. Fifteen other organizations are involved as service delivery partners. Basically, the project entails providing services to children and their families based at two schools, St. Anthony’s Elementary in Port Hope, and Colborne Public School. The proponents promise to run a whole gamut of programs, ranging from Early Screening, Identification and Supports; Parenting Information and Resources; Pre and Post Natal Supports; Nutrition Counselling; links to community resources; home visiting; and something called meaningful parent participation. While there was no funding request made during this presentation, a strong hint was dropped for the future; along with the air of hopeful anticipation the Ontario government will provide the means to bring the program to all our schools.
Meanwhile, over at the Kawartha Pine Ridge Health Unit, $40,000 was provided for them to create a website that will feature restaurant food inspection results. Some of the money will be earmarked to produce food safety mail-outs, buy equipment and increase inspections. Currently the health inspectors visit local eateries just twice a year, while higher risk cafeterias and banquet halls are inspected three times. Scarce hot dog carts and catering trucks are checked once annually.
It’s hard not to support any program that benefits the public’s wellbeing, but the need for extra funding to provide them is questionable. In the case of “Northumberland Cares for Children”, their partners include the Children’s Aid Society, YMCA, Rebound Child and Youth Services, United Way and the Health Unit, among others. It’s great that they all work together and want to provide one stop shopping for services at area schools, but why do they need extra money to do that? Do their mandates not already call for them to provide those services in the County? While they may need meeting time to get together and plan the new programs, the staff is already in place to deliver them. In fact, they’ve gotten this far without special funds, suggesting the need is being met by their existing budgets.
For the Health Unit, which operates a rather spiffy website already, why do they need more cash to add on information and print some flyers? Funded one hundred percent by the County, this agency sops up a huge pile of our cash every year, and would appear to have the resources already in place to deliver its programs. With only two annual inspections of restaurants being performed, and no indication any other establishments besides these will have results posted on the website, it hardly amounts to a huge undertaking on the Health Unit’s part that would necessitate extra funds.
More and more often we see large, well-funded public organizations priming the pump continually looking for more, while grassroots community groups with innovative ideas get squeezed right out of the picture because they can’t compete with the big players and their PowerPoint presentations. If we ever hope to get government funding pared down to reasonable levels we need to ask the big agencies just what it is they do with their budgets, and why they seem to need extra money just to deliver the programs they are set up to provide.