Municipality eyes stimulus funding for projects

Mayor hopes to use money for important community projects

File photo

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is looking at the newly released provincial stimulus plan as a way to source funding for several community projects, with mayor Al Raine saying he wants the community to emerge “better and stronger” when life returns to normal.  

Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the provincial plan, known as a “Stronger B.C. for Everyone.”  

It will see the province spend $1.5 billion in stimulus money and allocate an additional $660 million in tax relief for business. 

In an interview with SPIN, Raine said the plan represents a step in the right direction and he had already identified two or three funds the community could apply to for various projects. 

Raine said his hope is to apply for the type of community-building projects that will make Sun Peaks an even more appealing place to live and visit. 

“One thing we do know is national and international tourism is very competitive,” said Raine. “You can’t be the same as you were before; you’ve got to be better if you want to keep your market share.” 

The province’s plan includes $100 million for “shovel-ready” projects, and an additional $300 million in infrastructure and “connection grants,” which covers roads and transportation infrastructure. 

Raine identified several projects that could benefit from provincial funding. These include extending the Valley Trail further east, taking the tennis courts out of their current location and creating a public square in their place, and building tennis courts in the sports field area. 

Raine would also like to see canvas drop walls installed at the Sun Peaks Centre.  

The walls can be used to cover the space during non-winter months, allowing it to be used for conferences and concerts.

“The concept is to have a heavy canvas, retractable wall,” said Raine. “So if you’re having a conference in May, and it’s cooler, you can drop the wall and put some heat on, and still be able to use [the area] for a trade show or even a concert.” 

Raine added that resort communities like Sun Peaks have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, with travel restrictions on international travel causing an outsized impact when compared to communities with more diversified economies.

Following the announcement, Raine, along with representatives from 32 other communities that also collect the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT), had a conference call with Tourism Minister Lisa Beare.

The MRDT is a tax of up to three per cent on the purchase of accommodation imposed in specific geographic areas of the province on behalf of municipalities, regional districts or eligible entities.

Raine said the fact that a call was organized for such communities — which are typically the most reliant on tourism — is a sign the province recognizes the need to invest in tourism-reliant towns. 

An effort to get the province to allocate money specifically for resort municipalities proved unsuccessful. SPMRM was one of 14 resort municipalities that put forward a proposal to the province to set aside $100 million for communities that rely heavily on tourism. Raine said ultimately this fund was not created, though he does think the proposal helped underline the challenging situation resort municipalities find themselves in. 

While the province has allocated funding specifically for the tourism industry, the amount fell well short of the $680 million the Tourism Industry Association of BC called for on behalf of the industry. 

B.C. will devote $100 million specifically for tourism businesses and communities, and tourism operations will be eligible for grants of $10,000 to $40,000 to restart.

In addition the plan will see the province invest $19 million in support of small municipalities who are dependent on tourism “to build, adapt and diversify their tourism infrastructure.” 

Moreover, a new tourism task force will set up to plan for the future, with around $50 million earmarked for implementing the task force’s recommendations. 

Christopher Nicolson, president and chief executive officer for the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), said the spending is welcome and the industry felt heard. 

“From a tourism perspective and ski perspective, we were pleased to see that tourism was recognized; there’s a number of different dedicated supports for tourism,” he said. 

Nicolson added the prevalence of grant money, as opposed to loans, was welcome, given the dramatic impact the pandemic has had on many small businesses. 

The plan sets aside $300 million toward small-and medium-sized business recovery grants. 

Nicolson added there will be ways that B.C. ski resorts which are not incorporated municipalities, such as Big White, can apply for funding for important infrastructure projects. 

The CWSAA advocated for this during the plan’s development, fearing they could be shut out.

 “We were happy to see government listening to the feedback that came in during the consultation process and working hard to incorporate [it],” said Nicolson.  

Joel Barde is a reporter hired by SPIN with funding from the Local Journalism Initiative, a federal program created to support “original civic journalism that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada.”