Cuts force CiRS changes

Funding cuts have forced the coming wrap-up of an information service that’s been available through the Community Information & Referral Society (CiRS).

Staff announced earlier this year that one-third of the CiRS funding had been cut because of changes to the Red Deer & District Family and Community Support Services funding model.

The FCSS decision impacts CiRS’ volunteer services and information and referral services specifically. CiRS, which was established in 1992, delivers services to help non-profit and community service organizations leverage their resources, enhance their skills and deliver services.

“Red Deer will however no longer have a dedicated information and referral service as of December 31, 2011. These services will be winding up starting October 31, 2011,” Dawna Morey, the organization’s CEO.

As a result of this decision, residents will be directed to the City of Red Deer switchboard. “We are hopeful that the City will be able to provide the same customized service that CiRS has offered to the residents and nonprofit sector of our community for the last 20 years.”

She is concerned about what could potentially be lost, pointing out that much could be discontinued including a newsletter, a database of volunteer opportunities, a variety of workshops opportunities and the many hours that CiRS spends helping organizations recruit volunteers.

“How do you replace it?”

Scott Cameron, social planning manager for the City of Red Deer, said that the City and neighbouring municipalities field calls on a regular basis (about community services) and that will continue.

He said more focus would be applied this fall on that role, but pointed out that already there are good sources for community information online or through other informal avenues. People will often directly call the organization they are interested in learning more about, he said.

As for the funding cuts, Cameron pointed out that it’s a comprehensive, well-thought out process. Ultimately, there just isn’t enough funding for every service that could potentially exist within a community.

“The FCSS board takes the funding decisions very seriously.”

Decisions on how the funds would be disbursed was announced this past June and staff say the new funding model must be of a “preventive nature that enhances the social well-being of individuals and families through promotion or intervention strategies provided at the earliest opportunity, and our funding decisions honour this mandate.”

But Morey said this decision also impacts the collection and management of information on local services provided by government and the nonprofit sector; ultimately meaning a loss of the only dedicated Information & Referral Service agency in the region.

She said the public needs to speak up about the discontinuation of information services through CiRS.

“The community has a voice, and the community needs to use its voice.”

Officials said that in the meantime, CiRS will continue to operate reduced Volunteer Red Deer programs.

“Unfortunately, for the immediate future and until we secure additional funding, volunteer services will be reduced significantly,” said Morey.

“The community sees great value and need for our Volunteer Centre in Red Deer, as is evidenced by the 50-plus agencies that subscribe annually to CiRS Services and for the many more on an ‘as need’ basis as well as the number of requests we see for volunteer opportunities.”

CiRS staff say these decisions came after much budget deliberation and careful consideration. “The elimination of some services and reduction of other services was never the desire of this board and CEO” said Bill Farr, board chair.

“The board is committed to the success of this organization and will continue to work to build a sustainable structure and future. This will take time, effort, commitment and support from our community leaders and the community, if we are to be able to reinstate services.”