Juan de Fuca Director Mike Hicks expressed his disappointment Monday that the Capital Regional District electoral area received only $43,000 from the provincial government in a COVID-19 relief fund, significantly less money than a similar size municipality.
“I don’t understand why the government would think that the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area expenses are that much less than a municipality,” Hicks said.
“The numbers speak for themselves. I’m almost speechless. I really don’t know what to say.”
The funding is part of the $425 million of joint federal and provincial spending announced by the B.C. government in November. The grant was provided to assist with increased operating costs and lower revenue due to COVID‐19.
On average, municipalities received $200 per capita through the federal and provincial-funded Safe Restart Grant program. Regional district electoral areas were provided with $8 per capita.
Hicks argued the funding formula is unfair when Juan de Fuca, with more than 5,500 residents, receives a much smaller funding amount because it’s an electoral area. He points to Zeballos, a municipality that received $200,000 but has a population of 107.
“This is a real slap in the face,” Hicks said.
However, the District of Sooke, which received $2.9 million, took a different tone to the news when it was announced in early November.
“It’s more money than we expected,” Mayor Maja Tait said.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities advocated for a “fair and equitable” distribution formula for all local governments, said Tait, who is the organization’s past-president.
The Municipal Affairs Ministry, in a statement to Black Press Media, said regional districts are responsible for distributing and utilizing the funds to address impacts from COVID-19 across all services they provide.
The Capital Regional District received $1.4 million, and it was up to the CRD board to determine how much funding was distributed to each electoral area.
“It is also important to note that most people in Juan de Fuca region live in and around the municipality of Sooke, which received $2.9 million in direct funding through the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for Local Governments,” the statement read.
“As the pandemic continues to evolve, so will our response, and we will continue to look at how we can work with local governments to ensure the health and safety of British Columbians.”
Hicks argued it’s a worrying sign when one community is pitted against another.
“I don’t begrudge Sooke or anyone the money, but I do question how much we got. It’s got to be fair,” said Hicks, who wasn’t expecting any pandemic bailout money from the province.
He’s now putting his efforts into turning the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area into a municipality. The Juan Fuca area covers a large area from East Sooke to Port Renfrew and includes five volunteer fire departments.
Over the years, the Juan de Fuca has kept its taxes low and in 2021 is expecting a .5 per cent increase.
And because Juan de Fuca isn’t a municipality, it cannot obtain many funds a municipality is entitled to and receives, including casino money from the province.
“They think we’re second-class citizens for some reason,” Hicks said.