A Capital Regional District area director says residents have been shortchanged in the COVID-19 bailout.
“It’s a kick in the groin, this one. It’s bad,” said Mike Hicks, CRD director for the Juan de Fuca area.
“It’s outrageous they would give a municipality 25 times more than an electoral area, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Hicks says the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds has been unfair, with most of the government funding going towards the municipalities, leaving electoral areas like Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring Island, and the Southern Gulf Islands, forgotten.
“I watch my colleague talk about where they’re going to use the funds. My planner went out to Best Buy last night, because there was a Black Friday sale on, to buy five-cent headphones for my staff. That’s hard. That’s what we can do with our funding, we got some headphones!” said Hicks.
Through the federal and provincial-funded Safe Restart Grant program, on average municipalities received $200 per capita. Meanwhile, regional district electoral areas were given $8 per capita.
According to the province, so-called ‘electoral areas’ like Juan de Fuca, didn’t face the same revenue loss that municipalities did.
“The province required all municipalities to fully remit their annual payments to the regional districts regardless of whether the municipalities collected the tax revenue or not. Consequently, municipalities bore the brunt of revenue impacts due to COVID-19, while regional district tax remittances – from municipalities and the province – were kept whole in 2020,” a spokesperson from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs told CHEK News.
Something the finance committee chair, who dolled out the region’s $1.4 million in relief, kept in mind when handing out the funds.
“I think that the actual determination is what are the real costs and ensure those are covered, to ensure there’s a safe restart for the whole region,” said Susan Brice, chair of the CRD’s finance committee.
The province made suggestions on how to distribute the funds, but ultimately “it was up to the CRD Board to determine how to allocate the funds,” said the ministry.
The CRD could have changed how the money was handed out, but their internal finance committee didn’t agree with Hicks’ approach, deflecting blame back to the province instead.
“The province made it’s determination, presumably based on responsibilities and costs incurred. We recognize that there is a difference in the allocation, however, that is a provincial decision,” said Brice.
Hicks says the allocation of funds was mishandled.
“We pay taxes equally, so why when this government disperses the funds would we not get it back equally?” asked Hicks.
Hicks is now looking to turn Juan de Fuca into a municipality to help receive funding like this, and others afforded to municipalities in the province.
“It’ll take a lot to become a municipality, but there’s no question, if that’s what it takes to be treated equal, we’ll be looking into that,” said Hicks.
Wednesday the CRD finance committee voted to go back to the province to ask for additional funding.