Rossland Denies George Grey's Request for Olympic Funding
Should taxpayers’ dollars be used to support an individual’s personal goals and endeavours? More specifically should city tax payer dollars be used to support an Olympic athlete’s quest for medals? Looking at the situation from another direction–is supporting an Olympic athlete with taxpayer dollars from that athlete’s hometown really supporting an individual or promoting the town as a whole? This week, these three questions and various variations thereof pressed council to take a side on a difficult if not emotionally charged issue.
George Grey came before council as a delegation at the July 27th regular council meeting requesting $10,000 cash from the city of Rossland to support his Olympic drive. (Read that story as reported in the Telegraph here) Coming back before council on Monday, the issue kicked off a passionate half hour debate.
Councillor Spearn opened the discussion with a motion to support Grey in the amount of $5,000. Speaking to the motion she added, “I think that’s the least we–as the city where this athlete was born and raised and has brought the whole profile of cross country skiing to a much higher place than it ever was in Rossland–can do. I’m a strong advocate for sport. I would be embarrassed as a councillor and citizen if we didn’t come up with some kind of financial support to support George in his endeavours. I’m passionate about that and if anyone wants to suggest more I’d be open to that too.”
Among the issues troubling some councillors was the discretionary nature of the request amid ongoing talks at city hall on how to reduce the tax burden on citizens. Councillor Stradling acknowledged this issue but noted also the promotion the city would receive.
“I’m very cognisant that our city is trying to review very closely discretionary expenditures that might impose further on our taxpayers that make our city less attractive to reside in, so I’m always very critical of these requests for funding that come with a somewhat discretionary nature to them. However, I think it’s worth considering the promotional value that George’s request comes with. This is going to be a very high profile event. Rossland’s name is going to be visible across the TV screens; he’s going to be interviewed and speaking about his home community. I’m quite comfortable with supporting a reasonable request to the order of $5,000.”
Rossland, council was reminded by Councillor Wallace, is home to two past gold medal Olympic champions and numerous current athletes competing at high levels. Kimberly Jones, in particular, will also be competing in 2010 as a sit skier in the Paralympics and has not requested funding from the city.
“While I recognize there will be a big promotional piece to the city,” said Wallace, “It’s the other side we need to keep in mind. The fairness and equity among other athletes.”
There were other suggestions. At one point, the Mayor suggested if councillors wanted to support Grey they could donate their councillor’s stipend as one option. Councillor Charlton spoke in favour of supporting Grey but also suggested some alternative funding sources.
“I suggest we direct staff to look at our budgets and see what categories this could go under. Maybe promotional or tourism? Perhaps it’s something we consider as part of the grants we give to tourism Rossland? I’m sure we can find an appropriate place in the budget to assign these funds to around the promotion of Rossland so I’m certainly in favour of the motion.”
Councillor Moore [a former president of Black Ski Club], attending the meeting via-conference call while she is out of town, provided some background information on why she believes the city should support Grey’s request. She informed council that Grey, who now lives and trains in Canmore was approached by the local government in Canmore to support him and have him ski for their city. “He chose to stay with Blackjack because he wanted to be loyal to Rossland and wanted to ski for his hometown club,” said Moore. “I think we get a terrific promotional value by having Rossland on his gear and have Rossland written across his hat instead of Canmore.”
In an emotional monologue, Mayor Granstrom broke into the debate with the most passion seen in council chambers since this current council took office. [Listen to the entire speech at the bottom of this story].
While making sure to state his personal support of Grey and his dedication and pride in being Canadian, the mayor, in what he suggested would not be a very popular opinion, stressed that city council was not elected to spend money on individuals’ dreams but rather Rossland as a whole.
“I don’t believe we were elected by the good citizens of Rossland to spend monies to support one individual in his journey. I believe we disperse taxes for the benefit of all Rossland. That is our mandate. That is why we were elected.”
Suggesting that if Rosslanders want to support Grey they are able to donate money themselves and that if councillors want to support they are more than welcome to donate personally, the Mayor wrapped up the monologue by placing $20 of his own money on the table as the first donation to support George without tax payer money.
“It is my opinion that if this council wishes to support Mr. Grey. Mr Grey has asked us for ten thousand dollars. I did some math. That’s 500 of us to donate $20 each. I am prepared to give my $20 immediately, personally. That’s 499 more to go to support Mr. Grey in his Olympic dream and that would be from the citizens of Rossland and it would not be on the taxpayers.”
Other suggestions were made to support George with in-kind services to help his fundraising. During Mr. Grey’s delegation three weeks ago, however, he specifically noted that he is not looking for in-kind services but rather hard cash.
Ultimately the motion to support George and all other Olympic athletes in town through in-kind contributions to fundraising efforts was carried 4-2.
A fundraiser for George specifically is already planned for October 17th at Red Mountain.
*Now that the city has said no to providing cash to support George, will you be donating to help his cause? Do you believe taxpayer’s money should be used to support athletes? Let your thoughts be known below in the comment section.