Board members and members of the Chamber of Commerce, and Coun. John Siebenga attended a Chamber-organized noon luncheon with Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad last Friday.
Rustad highlighted that Houston would benefit most from three areas in the budget this year.
“The rural dividend fund, I think there’s a great opportunity. $75 million that will really help small communities like Houston,” said Rustad, listing the
three areas. “I think the road improvements, both the capital work and improvement for maintenance could be a big thing for the community, and the support we’re putting in place for mining and the resource sectors to try to see us through these challenging times.”
Rustad said that communities under 25,000 will be eligible for the dividend, highlighting that Houston will be eligible, and can apply in April or October.
Rustad responded that the towns will be able to use the rural dividend “in whatever way they want, to be able to help build their community,” in response to businessman Tom Euverman’s question to him.
“Personally … I haven’t’ seen a lot of direct help or changes,” said Euverman.
“But we still have too many people, when they come here … they don’t choose to live here. They choose to live in the neighbouring communities.”
He also highlighted that Houston will benefit from a $36 million increase in road maintenance.
“There’s also $3 million for transportation options such as bussing or other type of support within communities,” he said. “And a significant capital program so there will be capital investments that will be coming in throughout our corridor. Stay tuned for announcements.”
He also pointed to a two-year electricity bill deferral that is intended to help mines tide through a slump in mineral prices.
“My understanding is, unfortunately, it won’t help directly at least at this stage for Huckleberry,” he said. “They have I’m not quite sure how many years of resource left, and they’ve made a decision that this was just the best time within their cycle to do this.”
“It’s unfortunate. I think there’s still significant resource there, and there’s a lot more resource in the area. I know there’s others that would like to take advantage of the infrastructure at Huckleberry.”
Rustad also took questions from participants, to which Coun. John Siebenga asked about closures of halfway houses in the North.
“They’ve closed 85 homes in the province that were taking in young people, juveniles between the ages of 13 and 18, instead of them going into the prison system, they were going into homes,” said Siebenga. “And I’m wondering if there’s a rationale for the ones in the North, because we could really use them.”
Rustad does not know the specifics, but pointed to a “dramatic” fall in youth in custody over the 5-7 year time period.
Rustad also responded to Euverman’s question about health care by stating that the biggest barrier to building a 24/7 health centre is doctor recruitment.
“What we needed to figure out is how we can attract more doctors into the community, that then provides us with more flexibility and options around the services we can do in the community,” said Rustad.