- Fraser Valley Current
- Township cuts $100k from community grant budget; hands mayor $100k discretionary fund
Township cuts $100k from community grant budget; hands mayor $100k discretionary fund
What a small, $100,000 change in Langley Township's budget means—and why it matters.
Langley Township has given its mayor a $100,000 fund to use for anything he wants. The township has also cut $100,000 from its Community Grants budget.
But Mayor Eric Woodward—who says he has no plans for how he'll spend his $100,000—says the two budgetary decisions aren't linked.
Whatever the case, the thinning of one budget and the thickening of another demonstrates a different, small shift—not in where Langley Township’s money is spent, but who gets to make those calls.
The mayor’s money
Discretionary funds for mayors and council members exist in many large Canadian cities. They vary in size and title (Vancouver’s mayor had a $4-million fund in 2022). The money has been used for everything from lengthening warming centre hours in Winnipeg to hiring political staffers in Vancouver.
But the Township’s new “Mayor’s Operating Contingency Fund” is a brand-new part of the budget for Langley Township and the first of its kind in the Fraser Valley.
Woodward said it’s a tool that can be used to fund anything he wants. It’s not specifically for urgent problems or situations—it could be used for fun or interesting things, like an event or program. Council has a contingency fund of its own, but its use is determined by the Township’s nine-member council. The mayor’s contingency fund allows Woodward to fund events or programs without council’s approval.
Not all the township’s councillors were supportive of the idea when it was presented last fall.
Coun. Kim Richter, a frequent sparring partner of Woodward’s, was concerned with how the fund would be used.
“It’s a slush fund,” she said. “I don’t think it should be there.”
Richter wanted to get rid of the fund, or at least add conditions to how it operates that included its use requiring council approval.
“One person shouldn’t have control of $100,000 of public monies,” she said. Richter’s fellow councillors—four of whom are members of Woodward’s Contract with Langley party—did not agree, and the mayor’s contingency fund stayed in the budget.
But Richter wasn’t the only one who doesn’t know what the fund will be used for. Woodward, apparently, doesn’t know either.
The mayor told The Current he has no plan—or even any idea—of what that money might be spent on. Woodward said that the fund wouldn’t be used for extra staff, like similar funds have been elsewhere. But he didn’t give any other limits.
“There's no concept of what it would be spent on,” Woodward said. “It's a tool that could potentially be used throughout the year. If something comes up that I would wish to fund and report on it to council…but there's no plans for it. I wouldn't be surprised if I don't use it at all.”
Whether or not it’s used won’t affect the township’s tax rate, he said. (Although $100,000 is a lot of money, it’s peanuts in the scope of the Township’s annual $300-million operating budget.)
As council was giving Woodward $100,000 to use, it was also cutting its Community Grants program by an equal amount.
The city allocated $288,125 to the program last year. Its $100,000 cut represents a 30% decrease for the coming year.
The $100,000 cut from the program was also (mostly) money that might not have ever been used. Each of the last five years, the Township has failed to distribute the full amount it had budgeted for the program. (Unspent money has been placed in the township's reserves.)
In 2023, the grants program provided $211,975 in funding to different applicants. That was about $76,000 less than budgeted—but $24,000 more than the Township now appears set to hand out this year. .
“Council was looking for a bunch of little savings that add up to a lot in some cases,” Woodward said. “And so we reduced the funding for the community grants program to what is actually required.”
The “Nothing Without Effort” grant program—which provided money for community beautification efforts—was also cut. The $35,000 program, Woodward said, had never received a successful applicant.
The community grants program provides funding for a variety of non-profit organizations and groups that serve the community. Money from the program goes to events, parades, and festivals. It funds community associations. It pays for Remembrance Day ceremonies, Dry Grad parties at local high schools, and community-specific streetlight banners, among other things. It’s also the source for annual funding for the Salvation Army and Langley Seniors Society.
The Township can point to increased funding for some programs. Funding specifically available for community events is increasing by $206,000. That money is separate from the grant program and it goes to events run by the township, or existing events that need support—though not necessarily non-profit organizations working in the community. Proposals for such events, city staff said, will come up throughout the year.
Some people aren’t happy with the new arrangement. The municipality has planned a new “walkable lights event” for next winter. But a non-profit society has run a drive-through lights display in Williams Park for decades. It had support from township staff for five years before the municipality pulled its support last September. The event was nearly canceled, before the Township reversed its funding decision. But society president Barbara Sharp said the display’s future isn’t certain. In October she asked why the township would propose organizing its own, similar event while the society’s could continue with township support.
“If the dollars are the real issue, why would you try to create a new event that will cost money?”
The location of $100,000 matters. Where that money lives in a city’s budget determines who decides what to fund—and what not to. In doing so, it can determine who gets the opportunity to try to make the township a better place—and who doesn’t.