More details are emerging about the provincial government’s new Rural Dividend Fund, which was announced in the February budget. Funding of $25 million per year over three years will be available to communities with populations under 25,000, in the categories of Community Capacity Building; Workforce Development; Community and Economic Development; and Business Sector Development.
“We want to make sure our small communities don’t get any smaller,” said Premier Christy Clark when the program was unveiled last week. “It’s a more fair, more equitable shake for rural communities.”
“It’s very, very exciting,” says Cache Creek’s Debra Arnott, a member of the Rural Advisory Council (RAC). She says the RAC put “a lot of time and energy” into the program. “There were a lot of meetings and conference calls over the last six months to see what this was going to look like.”
Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart says the program will be available to local governments, First Nations, and non-profit societies, which can all apply for funds under the program. The application form and guidelines went live on April 4, and interested parties have until May 31, 2016 to apply for funds in the first intake. It’s anticipated that grants will be announced in the late summer/early fall, with a new round of applications being accepted in the fall.
“The application won’t be a barrier,” says Tegart. “We want to help people get to ‘yes’ rather than put up barriers.” Arnott says that the goal is to try to help smaller groups that are trying to get things going, and that they’ve made it as easy as possible for people to understand the grant process and application, with an FAQ section on the site and a toll-free number people can call. Applicants can also get assistance at any Service BC office.
There are funds available for groups that need help with feasibility studies and planning before they submit an application. Tegart says this will help some groups get ready to submit an application in the second intake.
She agrees there’s a need for cash resources for small communities. “Sometimes groups need seed money to get started. Some of the grants will be 100 per cent funds, and we haven’t seen that for a long time.”
Single applicants can apply for up to $100,000 for community-driven projects, and must contribute at least 20 per cent of the total project costs. Partnerships involving more than one eligible applicant can apply for up to $500,000, and must contribute 40 per cent of the total project cost. Up to 10 per cent of the applicant contributions this can be in the form of in-kind contributions.
“This is really good news for our communities,” says Tegart. “As many groups as possible should apply.”
The Rural Dividend website, which includes guidelines and the application form, can be found at www.gov.bc.ca/ruraldividend.