The following column was originally published in the Sun Peaks Independent News.
By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P (Rivers and the Peaks)
Upgrades to recreational facilities. Improvements to community halls. Repairs to fire stations. Water and sewer system upgrades.
These are the kinds of projects that might never get done if it wasn’t for a very important source of funding for electoral areas in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) — the federal gas tax.
Electoral areas don’t have the same level of reserve and contingency funds in their budgets that municipalities enjoy. Gas tax money has become an important — some might say essential — source for many community projects in rural areas.
Gas taxes flow from the federal government to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and through to the regional districts and other local governments. In the case of the TNRD, that funding is distributed to electoral areas based on respective populations.
Our Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) is the smallest electoral area in the TNRD geographically, but the largest in population. In fact, it has more residents within its boundaries than most of the municipalities in the TNRD, including Sun Peaks, Logan Lake, Cache Creek and Ashcroft combined.
Because of that, it receives a generous portion of gas taxes — at the end of 2014, it had close to $650,000 worth of uncommitted gas taxes in the bank. That’s 25 per cent of all the gas taxes of all 10 electoral areas in the TNRD.
Gas tax spending is subject to oversight by the UBCM, and restrictions on the types of projects it can be used for are laid out in the funding agreement with the federal government. The electoral area director recommends projects to the TNRD board of directors, which says yay or nay. I’m not aware of any situations in which the board has rejected a director’s recommendation on gas taxes, though it’s possible.
Projects must fit certain criteria, and range from small to substantial. Among Area P approvals so far this year are a new furnace for a fire hall, a grandstand for a rodeo ground and improvements to a hockey arena. A number of other projects are under consideration.
Gas tax funding is intended to help build our communities. Often, communities raise a portion of the funds to help pay for a project, with gas tax money paying for the rest.
For example, a new boat launch was recently opened in Savona, in Director Ronaye Elliott’s Electoral Area J. It’s a great project, for residents and tourists alike. Gas taxes paid $170,000 of the cost. The Savona Community Association raised $13,000.
Over the next short while, I’ll be meeting with TNRD staff to talk about possible projects in Area P that can be funded at least in part with gas taxes. Several projects and possible projects are on the go but I’m looking for ideas.
If you’re wondering whether a particular project might be eligible, please contact me — gas tax funding just might help make it happen.