Amid the economic toll of COVID-19, the District is getting a hefty top up for local infrastructure needs.
On May 11 the Province announced this year’s round of its Northern Capital and Planning Grant, which is aimed at supporting healthy community growth and infrastructure amid resource development within the region.
“Northern B.C. is rich in natural resources, but its strongest asset is its people,” said Premier John Horgan. “These funds will help address the social and infrastructure needs that arise out of the many exciting economic developments underway in those communities. We are investing in northern jobs, roads and public services – and most importantly, in northern people.”
This year’s Northern Capital and Planning Grant will provide $50 million directly to local governments to help address their infrastructure needs and as they prepare for major resource and economic development. For The District of Kitimat, that amount is just over $5.2 million.
Mayor Phil Germuth said the funds signify a commitment from the Province to invest in the region as a whole.
“Providing these funds to northern communities demonstrates the Province’s continued commitment to delivering benefits back to the region,” he said. “Northern British Columbia communities contribute to our province through our industries, natural resources and the hard work of our residents. We are pleased that the provincial government continues to contribute to our region with supports to help build and maintain healthy vibrant communities.”
The grant is part of ongoing dialogue between the Province and B.C.’s northwest and north-central communities on how to support the region over the longer term.
It’s also a whole lot more than the slightly over $1.5 million the District received last year.
Mike Dewar, Director of Economic Development with the District told the Kitimat Northern Sentinel the reasoning for the low 2019 grant numbers compared to other areas with similar or smaller populations (Burns Lake: $3,439,000; Smithers: $6,218,000; Telkwa: $3,590,000) was never justified to the District.
“Following the 2019 funding allocation announcement, District of Kitimat representatives travelled to Victoria to meet with the Minister of Finance, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and key staff to lobby on behalf of the community,” Dewar explained. “During these meetings, District representatives conveyed the message that Kitimat is experiencing significant upfront costs associated with preparing for LNG development, and we are not yet receiving a significant tax windfall from LNG project development.”
He added the District was very pleased that the Province seemed to have recognized their needs in the form of the significantly-increased funding allocation for 2020.
Dewar said the fact that funding has come when Kitimat has nearly completed its 2020 tax bylaw means there’s little time to allocate the funding for this year but that council will provide direction of how the funds will be spent.
“Some options could include allocating to reserves that have been depleted in recent years, funding capital projects that did not make the 2020 budget deliberation cuts, or preserving the funds for large municipal capital projects such as construction of a new fire hall, retrofitting the Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre pool, or major infrastructure improvements.”
Another $25 million will be available to communities as they prepare for major economic development through the B.C. Northern Healthy Communities Fund, which will be administered through the Northern Development Initiative Trust. The fund is available to local governments, First Nations and non-profits in the region to support local delivery of critical services, such as health and mental health care, housing and child care.
“The need to invest in northern B.C.’s infrastructure and community services is vital, and this funding has a new and significant role to play in contributing to our province’s economic recovery, especially in light of COVID-19’s impacts on B.C.’s people, communities and economy,” said Carole James, Minister of Finance.
The funding complements $1.5 billion earmarked for economic stimulus as part of B.C.’s COVID-19 Action Plan. According to Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, it will also go a long way towards addressing the myriad of complex issues within the northern portion of the province.
“People are at the heart of strong, resilient communities and this funding is part of our continued commitment to invest in the hard-working people of the North,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “We have been listening to northern communities about their need to be ready to seize the opportunities presented by expected growth and resource development. With this funding, they will be able to plan to tackle both the infrastructure and socio-economic needs their communities are facing.”
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