Area C director Grace McGregor is still hoping to see how Victoria divvied COVID relief grants between rural and municipal areas across the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB).
The COVID Safe Restart program disbursed $425 million in provincial and federal grant funds to local governments across the province, according to the municipal affairs ministry.
McGregor raised her concerns in an open letter to B.C. government officials last month, including Premier John Horgan, municipal affairs minister Josie Osborne and Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell. “Why are my rural residents being penalized?” McGregor asked, noting that the RDKB received less than half a million dollars in grant funds, compared to area municipalities like Grand Forks and Trail, which got around $1.4 million and over $2.1 million.
“The recovery and ongoing costs related to COVID-19 are the same for rural B.C. as it is for our civic neighbours,” she wrote.
MLA Russell on Monday, March 8, acknowledged that McGregor and other RDKB directors had raised “a legitimate concern” about the COVID grants, which he said “has been heard, loud and clear.” But Russell qualified that he did not think rural residents were being penalized.
“Not everyone is happy with the funding model, but it does meet communities’ needs for the most part,” he said.
A spokesperson for Minister Osborne meanwhile explained that, while municipalities did get bigger per capita grants, they had been required to pay into regional districts, whether or not they had collected those funds in city taxes.
McGregor said she’d heard that explanation when she brought her concerns to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, where she represents the RDKB. She’s “not mad” she said, having written in her letter that she didn’t want to “pit community leaders against each other.”
Instead, she said she and other directors want to see the nuts and bolts of the province’s funding formula. Ideally, she said she’d want to see a new formula — one that would “be fair, across the board.”