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Calgary Civic Partners could see more scrutiny under new funding framework

Calgary city councillors approved a plan to craft a new framework for how Calgary’s Civic Partners are funded.   

Couns. Sonya Sharp and Courtney Walcott teamed up on the notice of motion that went before city council at their final meeting of 2022 on Tuesday. They’d like to see the Civic Partners framework have clearer reporting and be aligned with city council’s current priorities.

Right now, the City of Calgary’s partners with more than 500 organizations in a variety of ways to deliver certain programs. Eighteen Civic Partners receive operating grants from the City of Calgary. In 2021, the City provided $114 million in operating cash and $20 million in capital grants to these partners.

During this past city budget, some Civic Partners were big winners, while others were not. Some $23 million was added to this year’s budget for 11 of those partners.

Right now, Civic Partner agreements are governed by the investing in partnerships policy, adopted in 2017. That document does outline some guidelines for funding – particularly capital grants – but doesn’t explicitly lay out a reporting structure for millions in operating cash.

Coun. Sharp said she would have liked to see this come before the recent budget. Right now, the Civic Partners are scattered among the city’s different business units.  She’s hoping this notice of motion will work better for partners and make funding evaluations easier.

“I think what we also need to consider is that partners right now are part of service lines,” Sharp said.

“Maybe that’s not always the best way to evaluate them.”

Councillors have asked for a new plan by Q2 in 2023. Once a new Civic Partner Operating Grant Program is approved, they’ve asked that it be used to adjust grant allocations from 204 to 2026.

The plan also includes $360,000 from the Fiscal Stability Reserve for two temporary full-time employees to work on the plan.

Squeezing politics out of decision making: Coun. Walcott

Coun. Walcott is all for councillors advocating for different projects and initiatives throughout the city. He said that’s to be respected and is a part of the job.

When it comes to funding Calgary’s Civic Partners, a clearer framework is required, with data-driven key performance indicators.

“As a council, when someone brings up and says I want to fund this particular partner, do I have the data in front of me right now to essentially evaluate whether or not that is the right partner to fund to get the outcome that we as a council desire?”  Walcott asked.

“I don’t think that’s there right now.”

Walcott also said that transparency is key.

“That transparency part is so significant to it as well because when you have anyone using public dollars, we have to be able to make sure that we have a clear line of sight on it. A clear line of sight of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Walcott suggested a new framework could work in two ways. First, it asks the question of getting value for the dollars invested, he said. It also shows those organizations stretching dollars much further than others – thus warranting more investment.

“I think that’s a fair question to ask every once in a while, just to make sure that we’re in the best position,” he said.

Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, one of the 18 Civic Partners that receives operating funds, said this is a good idea.

“I think from a reporting perspective… aligning our outputs with the city’s priorities that they put forward, under the (budget 20)23 to 26 strategic pillars, I think makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Traptow also said it’s tax dollars they’re using and the public should have a line of sight on Civic Partners and how their money is spent.

“I think any ability to track that return on investment, I think is important,” he said.