There are some pluses and minuses for Smithers in the Provincial budget released last week according to the acting mayor of Smithers and a local financial planner.
First, the good.
The B.C. government is adding $13 million over three years to help revitalize the forestry sector. Many have blamed the dwindling timber supply, wildfires and high stumpage fees for the layoffs and mill closures.
Gladys Atrill said any money for the industry is good.
“Since last summer when the curtailments and closures began, the Province had started reallocating funds towards communities that were hard hit so in those communities any additional support, any additional money for workers that are affected will be greatly received,” she said. “It is hard to quantify whether any amount is enough or whether the right things can be truly done but I’m sure any money into hard hit communities will be well received.”
Certified financial planner and chief financial officer of FCM Financial Services Trever Morris said his favourite part of the budget was the money for forestry industry.
“Our forestry industry needs help around here and it is so important,” he said.
Morris also pointed out that Victoria is investing more money into childcare, which will help out residents in Smithers.
“It will help to have more women in the workforce and that can only be a good thing,” he added.
Atrill echoed the need for more child care spaces around town.
“Throughout British Columbia and including in our town there is a demand for child care spaces that can’t be met,” she said. “Anything that can be done to improve the number of child care spaces enables people to get out to work and to improve the economic balance sheet for their families so those things are all good.”
The Town of Smithers recently approved applying for a grant through UBCM to identify the needs for child care.
“The BC Ministry of Children and Family Development has provided $2.85 million for the Community Child Care Planning Program. Under this program, eligible projects can receive a maximum of 100 per cent of the cost of eligible activities up to $25,000. So this is a planning grant,” said Atrill.
She added it will take time to identify the need and there will also be an uptake to build the spaces and she isn’t sure how much of the new provincial dollars for childcare will go to Smithers just yet.
Then there’s the bad.
The 2020 budget delays delivery of thousands of affordable homes in the province which potentially could have an affect on the Bulkley Valley, said Atrill.
“There are a couple of project proposals that are out for housing in Smithers, so depending on how long the Province will delay delivery on that….. I did see the budget and there are reductions across the ministry.
“It would be a shame if we couldn’t go ahead with additional units. That being said, the Town of Smithers is only partnering with other agencies who were going to be the project proponents behind housing so it wasn’t something we weren’t taking direct responsibilities for.
“But as you know Smithers has a housing shortage as do other communities and each new unit created is a new unit and provides space for someone that frees up another unit so any big delay in getting housing built will have an affect on the community.”
Morris agreed and added the lack of affordable housing has a trickle down effect.
“I’ve heard this comment a lot that Smithers has a housing crisis, business owners have a hard time hiring new employees because people have a hard time finding a place to live if they are moving from out of town. It is a challenge that has been talked about a lot around town.”
Morris also found something odd in the budget.
Finance Minister Carole James announced there will be a seven per cent provincial sales tax added to carbonated drinks that contain sugar starting July 1.
“I thought that was kind of funny,” said Morris. “The objective is to try to make children healthier but there are some drinks with natural sweeteners that don’t seem to be so bad for people. The other part, I don’t think it is well planned out. It is not going to change the price on the shelf, it is just changing the tax paid. People are going to see the same price on the shelf and pick it up and at the register is the the only time on the receipt they will notice they pay more tax. That won’t necessarily cause people to stop buying pop, at least I don’t think so.”
The new tax is forecasted to bring in $27 million in revenues in the 2020-2021 budget year.
Overall Morris said this is a good budget for the middle class.
“I’m being fairly positive, it all looks good but things in reality are sometimes different from what is on paper. I’ll make that statement but other than that you have the BC opportunities benefit, a few different benefits for housing, ICBC is lowering rates, they are investing in education, in general they are investing in more infrastructure which means more jobs.”