The future of the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) Funding program under the new provincial government is still unclear, but the funding is flowing this year again, and local communities here in the Valley will continue to put it to good use.
The new government announced in a press release issued in October that $10.5 million worth of funding for the April 2017 to March 2018 fiscal year will be going to the province’s 14 designated resort municipalities, which include Invermere-Panorama (considered one entity under the program) and Radium Hot Springs.
The program was initiated as a means to help small B.C. municipalities that get comparatively large numbers of tourists relative to their permanent year-round population. Such communities argued that they need much more infrastructure than their permanent populations would suggest, in order to accommodate these visitors, and lack the means to do so, given their relatively small permanent population (and consequently their relatively small tax bases). The provincial government of the time concurred, and agreed to send funding to these municipalities, with the money drawn at least partly from the provincial hotel room tax, but with the caveat that since the communities are getting the funding as a result of being a tourist town, the money must be spent on projects that support and enhance tourism. To qualify as a designated resort municipality, a community must have a ratio of number of hotel, motel or other accommodation “bed units” to permanent population above a given threshold.
Under the previous Liberal provincial government the RMI program agreement ran for renewable five-year periods, but when the NDP and Green emerged as the new government following last spring’s provincial election, it was uncertain what would become of the program.
The announcement means the funding goes for at least one more year, and Radium Hot Springs mayor Clara Reinhardt told the Pioneer that her village is grateful for the money, but added there is still nothing concrete being said about what will happen with the RMI in the long-term.
“It’s the last money under the current structure and we are waiting to hear from the current government on how we are going to move forward with this,” said Mrs. Reinhardt.
Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said that a meeting on the matter between municipal leaders and Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare — during the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver in late September — went well, and left the municipal representative with a positive feeling.
“We’re hoping the ministry will not just renew the program, but improve it for the future,” said Mr. Taft.
He added that the program is perhaps most impactful in the local Columbia River-Revelstoke provincial riding, which is home to no less than five of the 14 designated resort municipalities — with Kimberley, Golden and Revelstoke, in addition to Invermere-Panorama and Radium Hot Springs.
“We have the highest number of resort municipalities of any area of B.C., so it is a pretty significant program for our region,” said Mr. Taft. “It really allows for projects, highly visible ones, that we just couldn’t afford solely from property taxation. And although the money is for tourism-related infrastructure, most of the time local residents benefit from the projects as well.”
Invermere will get $161,000 of the $10.5 million this fiscal year, and according to Mr. Taft, the district typically saves up its RMI money for a few years until it has enough to fund a large project.
“In the past we’ve used it for things such as the amenity building at Kinsmen Beach, Pothole Park, the Cenotaph revitalization, the new sign at the crossroads, and, on an ongoing basis, for the Invermere-Panorama shuttle,” he said, adding future projects the district hopes to fund with RMI money include upgrades to the Athalmer boat launch, and general improvement of access to the lake in Invermere.
Radium Hot Springs received $97,522 of the $10.5 million, and according to Mrs. Reinhardt, will use the money, as it has in past years, for ongoing projects such as improving the riverfront landing area along the Columbia River used by paddlers, near Radium Hot Springs, and partially funding the Adventure Radium camps.