Kitchener councillors debate cutting Communitech funding in budget meeting

A motion to decrease the amount of funding Kitchener gives to Communitech was met with shock during the city's budget deliberations Monday afternoon.

Motion suggests 'we defund what is probably the economic heart of the City of Kitchener'

Communitech receives $300,000 from the the City of Kitchener annually as a grant. On Monday, a motion was made during budget deliberations to decrease that amount. The motion failed. (Meghan Thompson/Communitech/Facebook)

Communitech has helped Waterloo region grow in terms of attracting tech companies, but the $300,000 it receives in grant funding each year from the city was debated at council during Monday's budget deliberations.

Coun. Yvonne Fernandes questioned whether it was time to "pull back" on funding Communitech.

"They're doing extremely well. They're getting increased funding," she said, noting Communitech might not necessarily need city money.

She put forward a motion to decrease the grant to $200,000.

Councillor Zyg Janecki amended the motion to decrease the amount by half, to $150,000.

Both the amendment and Fernandes's motion failed to get the support needed. Three councillors voted in favour of Fernandes's motion: Fernandes, Janecki and John Gazzola.

Not the time to cut funding

Cutting funding was a suggestion Mayor Berry Vrbanovic rebuffed.

"Communitech has played an incredible leadership role" in Waterloo region, including going after federal supercluster funding, he said. It's also part of the reason Kitchener and Waterloo are being considered as part of the Toronto region bid for the second headquarters for Amazon.

Other communities are catching up to or surpassing Waterloo region when it comes to the tech sector and now is not the time to cut funding, Vrbanovic said.

"We should be sending positive messages," he said.

Coun. Paul Singh "surprised" by the suggestion of cutting funding and said the grant money is an investment that has lead to additional jobs, condo developments and changes to the downtown core of the city, including improvements to the Tannery.

"Is it fair to say those wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Communitech?"

A number of dignitaries, including Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic (far left) and Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech (far right), attend a ribbon cutting in 2016.

Defund 'economic heart' of Kitchener

Coun. Frank Etherington admitted as a journalist, he wrote critically on providing this kind of grant funding, but he has since come full-circle.

He called it "one of the smartest moves ever made in Kitchener."

Committee chair Coun. Scott Davey said he was shocked to see 's Fernandes's motion without any request for more information before Monday's meeting.

"This motion is essentially suggesting that we defund what is probably the economic heart of the City of Kitchener," he said.

'It's time to say thank you'

But Fernandes stressed she thinks it's something they need to seriously consider.

"People who have been at Communitech, they're telling me that there's money there, that's coming in, that the users are being turned away because they are so full. So if some of that is true … why are we continuing to support, to some part, a private sector business," she asked.

Mayor Vrbanovic noted Communitech is a not-for-profit and the membership is made up of private business as well as the city.

"What's critical is it's taxpayer dollars," Fernandes said. "I just want us to have some oversight."

She said Communitech helped bring many tech companies including Google and Desire2Learn to the city and decreasing the amount of funding to Communitech would not mean those companies would leave.

"It's time to say thank you, we're going to continue funding you a certain percentage, but we're also going to pull back a little bit," Fernandes said.

Fernandes's motion received support from just two other councillors. She said she did not expect her motion to go over very well.

"I expected it to go over like a lead balloon, which is exactly what it did," she said.


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