Buoyed by a $100 million provincial grant for northern local governments announced last month, the Northwest BC Regional Benefits Alliance is continuing its longstanding goal of an annual revenue stream.
“It was a surprise, a great surprise. It was a great day, no doubt,” says District of Houston mayor Shane Brienen of the grant announcement made Feb. 16 in Terrace by Premier John Horgan.
The $100 million is to be divided up between four northern B.C. regional districts and 18 municipal governments for infrastructure projects or to be used to as the local government portion in applying for additional senior government capital project grants.
Brienen has now been named a co-chair of the benefits alliance along with Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine director and City of Terrace councillor Sean Bujtas.
In that capacity, Brienen and Bujtas will be guiding the alliance’s long-standing efforts for an annual revenue stream from the provincial government.
Formed in 2014 and now with a local government membership stretching from Vanderhoof to Masset on Haida Gwaii, the benefits alliance has been arguing for a greater share of the taxation revenues the province collects from regional resource industries.
The alliance further says local governments often have to supply and maintain services while not receiving a share of the provincial revenues in return.
Brienen said there’s a critical need for money for local governments to replace aging infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer facilities.
“Many of the municipalities have infrastructure approaching 50 years of age and are at the end of their lifecycle,” he noted.
“What we’ll be doing now is working with the provincial government to put a plan in place,” Brienen said of the goal of an annual revenue stream.
Such an effort is not unique in B.C. — northeastern local governments for years have benefitted from the province supplying money obtained from taxing the oil and gas industry.
Brienen said an annual revenue stream to bolster municipal services is also crucial for those municipalities to grow and prosper.
“What we’re looking for are the same opportunities as in other areas of the province. Attraction and retention of people is a huge issue,” he said.
“We want our communities to be able to get people working.”
The $100 million is to be forwarded to local governments by the end of March and while they are free to spend it as they see fit, how it is spent must be reported.
Brienen met with other members of the alliance in Terrace Feb. 22 to work on future plans.
Money for the alliance’s work comes from its member local governments but it also received $300,000 from the province last year to further its goals.
The Terrace meeting also discussed the prospect of hiring a project manager to partially replace the need for hiring consultants.