Friday, September 22, 2023

Resource Benefits Alliance Working Group report provides extensive background on challenges and issues of concern; less firm on a committment towards when those concerns may be addressed

The Working Group report on the discussions related to the Resource Benefit Alliance released on Thursday, provide mostly for an overview of what the province and the members of the Alliance have been up to over the course of the last year.

The release on Thursday was noted by both Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond and North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, the two local elected officials observed of the progress made in the last year towards the long proposed plans to add to revenue streams for the communities of Northwest British Columbia.

The Report outlines what areas the two partners have explored since the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement one year ago, the report was released as part of a meeting of Premier Eby, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regional MLA's and municipal officials at the UBCM convention.

click on images above to enlarge 

The Report observes of many of the themes that Prince Rupert Council have made note of over the last few years, including the stresses of infrastructure replacement with limited financial resources and concerns towards borrowing capacity. 

A pair of passages from the Executive Summary outlines some of the current challenges facing communities and the theme is one that likely resonates large for Prince Rupert City Council. 

The RBA has identified their communities as having a lack of basic infrastructure compared to other municipalities around the province. The financial challenges and limitations of local governments in the RBA region are a result of communities generally having a small property tax base, limited borrowing capacity, and the inability to generate development finance revenues. This has led to an underinvestment in critical infrastructure throughout the region for decades.

As a result of a small property tax base, low borrowing limits and the lack of development finance revenues, the RBA region is becoming increasingly dependent on senior government grant funding to meet their community infrastructure and servicing needs (this is also an historic trend). Recent provincial funding and investments in the RBA region have been extensive. Since 2017, the Province has invested over $336 million through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, Northern Capital and Planning Grant, Growing Communities Fund, and Critical Community Infrastructure program.

The Report also notes of the expanding industrial footprints in many of the communities of the RBA and how those communities will remain reliant on Government Grant Funding without other sources of revenue.

While the Province is projecting significant industrial development will continue to occur in the RBA region over the next decade, RBA communities will be vital to ensuring the positive economic benefits from these future industrial investments are realized. This future industrial activity benefits not only neighbouring RBA communities but also the province more generally through increased provincial taxation revenues. 

The long-term prognosis of local government financial challenges in the RBA region are not projected to change. The current challenges with a small property tax base, borrowing limits (due to smaller tax bases) and lack of development finance revenues are projected to continue through the next decade. \

In general, the region will continue to be reliant on senior levels of government grant funding to meet current and future infrastructure needs of the region without another source of revenue to address the growing needs of an industrial developing region.

The report as we noted was well received by Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, who highlighted the collaborative spirit of those working on the issues.

“The province is focused on supporting development that creates good-paying jobs and sustainable communities across the northwest. We are working together with the RBA to support resource development and critical infrastructure so that everyone can thrive in the places we call home.”

The information statement from the province featured a number of comments from other Mayors and officials from across the Northwest, as well as a synopsis of some of the funding that has been distributed to the region over the last four years.

As to the question of when residents of the region may hear word of an agreement between the province and the RBA and a clearer idea as to what the communities might expect to receive in additional revenues. 

The final word on that timeline will go to Houston Mayor Shane Brienen, who offered up some hopes of progress within the next year.

“I am pleased that the provincial government carries on with its commitment to the MOU signed in September 2022. We look forward to continuing this work with the intent to having an agreement in place for the 2024 budget.”

The Province's announcement can be reviewed here, the Working Group report is available here.

You can follow the work of the Resource Benefits Alliance members through our archive page here.

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