An idea initially proposed by Mayor Christian Provenzano that would see the city set aside some economic development funds for the city’s post-secondary institutions was narrowly passed by council.
Provenzano wanted council’s support to earmark $100,000 in each year, for the next three years, to support Algoma University’s and Sault College’s plans that are consistent with the city’s FutureSSM plan.
The resolution was passed in a 4-3 vote.
Provenzano, along with councillors Lisa Vezeau-Allen, Rick Niro and Corey Gardi, supported the resolution.
Those opposed included councillors Matthew Shoemaker Marchy Bruni and Matthew Scott.
Three other councillors were absent from the meeting – Paul Christian, Luke Dufour and Sandra Hollingsworth.
Provenzano said while support for the city’s post-secondary institutions is one of FutureSSM’s eight overarching goals, there are no resources allocated to further that objective.
This allocation, he said, is already in the budget and can serve a good process that will help the post-secondary institutions, develop a good community project and work together jointly.
“We are not giving or spending money to the college or university at this point,” he said. “We’re earmarking it” and council will have an opportunity to determine whether that project meets the criteria set out in the economic development fund and fits in the community’s plan.
Vezeau-Allen said the Conference Board of Canada indicates that for each dollar support to a post secondary institution, the return is $1.36.
“I think we need to do this and my making the commitment to Sault College and Algoma University, it helps them leverage other dollars,” she said.
“Every candidate has said that the university and college are great economic drivers . . . We should make this happen,” he said.
But all three councillors opposed to the resolution said they support Algoma University and Sault College in principle but are not in favour of the process or procedure that will set the money aside for the institutions and they can apply for it if they develop ideas that help the city’s community plan move forward.
“If they know the money is available, I’m sure they’ll come up with a way to use it,” Shoemaker said.
While he said he supports both post-secondary institutions and understands their significance to the economy, he believes that it would be better for Algoma University and Sault College to develop their own projects and come to the city when there is a need.
“I think we’d see better quality projects from it,” he said.
Bruni agreed. He said the city has already provided more than $2 million to the institutions, supporting a number of different projects in recent years.
Ongoing support totals $40,000, which is used for scholarships and recruitment efforts, he said.
“They are both well funded institutions. Tuition is stable and growing and both have recorded surpluses,” he said.
Sault College posted a $10-million surplus and Algoma University a $1.2-million surplus in past fiscal years, Bruni’s research indicates.
“I prefer they come to use if they need money and we can have a discussion at the time,” he said.
Scott said he’d gladly support both institutions if they come to council with a project or need but also balked at setting aside the money for the next three years.
Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi said that while other mid-size cities in Ontario pursued university charters and supported their post-secondary institutions, Sault Ste. Marie is behind in doing so.
“The benefits go without saying,” he said, calling it “vital” to develop the labour market and assist the local economy.
Provenzano called the plan a “modest and responsible” way to support the institutions and FutureSSM in a way that poses no risk to the city.