Northern Development Initiative Trust says money is being left on the table that communities could be using for everything from upgrading community halls to marketing and investment attraction programs.
“When the trust was created, each region decided to set up its account separately,” Janine North, NDIT executive director told the Cariboo Regional District board Nov. 16. “That’s why the Northeast has a combined trust account and the other regions have partitioned or segregated accounts, with allocations by communities and regional districts.”
North said NDIT would like to see an additional $3 million to $7 million go out of the trust for investment in communities every year. The combined trust account approach would increase the average annual funding to the region by up to $1.5 million.
“We’re not talking about taking money away or providing new money, but simply reallocating the trust in each region to maximize the amount of money that communities and rural communities can get.”
Small communities won’t lose out, she explained. Today 75 per cent of the amount of funding that NDIT spends has been invested in communities with less than 5,000 people. Per capita basis, communities such as Wells and Lytton have received $791 where as the average across the pooled trust areas is about $155.
“Smaller communities have done much better than larger communities and I think you can attribute that to fact that around the table at the regional advisory committee, every community and every regional interest has a vote.”
North said NDIT understands there may be a desire from many communities to ensure there’s equity if the proposed approach was taken. As a result NDIT would do quarterly reporting of project approvals to date, the projects for communities and rural areas since inception, and the sharing of statistics, such as per capita spending.
“We also understand that many smaller communities have effectively saved up their allocations to go toward larger projects down the road. We’ve learned that that’s an unintended result of going to those segregated accounts.”
If the accounts had been combined from the beginning then those projects would have been able to go ahead much sooner and there wouldn’t have been that saving involved.
“A new combined trust account would let that happen. Rather than wait for the income stream off the smaller accounts build up over time, every year you would have access to about a million dollars of funding, based on projects coming in and the merit of the project. We looked at surpluses in the combined accounts,” North said.
NDIT looked at the account for Prince George and saw that every community could have a major project every year for the next three years and it still wouldn’t take off the surplus that’s been building up.
The board would like to have communities consider two new programs and one enhanced program.
Currently there’s an economic diversification infrastructure program that allows up to a $100,000 grant for major community projects that diversify the community.
It’s being proposed that the $100,000 be increased to $250,000 for each major project.
“Right now the trust could provide $1 for every $2.50 that’s been from other sources. In essence that’s 28 per cent of the project. The board and the community, and other sources, provide around 72 per cent.”
A second program would focus on encouraging downtown revitalization — $20,000 going to communities and the regional district, regardless of the size of the community. Chambers or Business Improvement Areas could partner with the business community on signage or a theme, North suggested.
“It’s to encourage businesses to work with design guidelines and enhance the downtown area.”
Communities could determine the funding ratios for how much a business would contribute to the project. The total investment would be about $1 million a year across the 40 communities NDIT works with.
A third proposed program would help with succession planning for local government. “There are many communities, especially small communities, that don’t have that second layer of managers or natural succession into chief administrative officer positions. The program would reinvigorate a previous program that brings young university graduates into communities to do a year internship, funded by the trust account.
“It’s not only about filling vacancies, it’s also about building capacity,” North said.
North has been meeting with local governments across the region and will meet with the regional advisory council on Dec. 4.