Burns Lake mayor Dolores Funk has lauded the provincial government’s commitment to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal with local governments in the northwest.
“I’m feeling very hopeful that this announcement will mean good things for the north over the long term,” Funk told Lakes District News.
Premier John Horgan made the announcement on Sept. 27 in speaking to local government leaders at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.
It follows a long-standing lobbying campaign by 18 municipalities and three regional districts in northwestern B.C. gathered together as the Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA).
Formed in 2014, the RBA has been seeking a share of what the province receives in taxation from industrial projects, saying that while those projects have an impact on services provided by local governments, those local governments don’t often have a way to tax those industries in return.
“It’s not all sunshine and roses when it comes to [significant industry development], there’s social disruption that comes with it, strain on infrastructure,” Premier John Horgan said to local government leaders.
“This week we recommitted to ensure the [Northwest Resource Benefit Alliance] work that has been done by governments right across the North, and by officials in Victoria, is a reality in the years ahead. We need to get an agreement in place that will stand the test of time, that means if a government changes, we will be ensuring that resources that are created in a community, to the best of our ability, stay in that community so everyone benefits.”
Horgan commended Terrace city councillor Sean Bujtas, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain and Houston Mayor Shane Brienen for their work on the RBA board to advocate for communities dealing with infrastructure and social impacts caused by major industrial developments, like the $40 billion LNG Canada facility in Kitimat.
This commitment from the province provides clarity on the government’s level of responsibility when it comes to negotiations with northwest B.C. municipalities to establish a fair revenue-sharing agreement.
”When an agreement is reached and profits are actually shared with the north, this will be a game changer for our region,” Funk said.
“It will give the village funding outside of general taxation revenue and autonomy to use the funds in a way that best meets our needs rather than having to continually depend on grant funding that may or may not be an appropriate fit. Other regions in the province where such agreements have been struck, have experienced significant benefits and improvements in quality of life for their residents.”
In February, the province announced $100 million grant for northwest communities to help them address outstanding infrastructure needs.
A revenue-sharing agreement would ensure funding is sustainable over the long term, Horgan says.
“Although I’m not going to stand here and say we’re going to solve all those problems, I hav been saying, as my minsters have been saying, we’re going to make sure we make those challenges disappear in the long term, if not in the short term, and we do that by working together,” he said.
The RBA could be a major tool when helping rural communities prepare for positive and negative impacts that come with regional economic activity, communities with budgets ill-equipped to deal with complex, expensive ramifications.
Revenue sharing agreements have occurred between the province and local governments before when major industry developments lie outside local tax assessment areas.
– with files from Blair McBride