This year’s provincial budget — the fourth balanced budget in the past four consecutive years — has plenty of goodies in it for rural B.C., said Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart.

Funds have been put aside for a Rural Dividend Program, a Farmers’ Food Donation Tax Credit, several forest fire protection initiatives, winter maintenance on highways and other items.

“Overall I think the budget speaks to the concerns that we’ve heard, and certainly speaks to a lot of the concerns that we hear in Fraser-Nicola,” said Tegart in a phone interview with the Herald.

ROADS

One of those concerns is winter maintenance on highways. “I have been lobbying with Minister Stone for quite some time with regards to some of the concerns that have been brought to my attention through my office for winter maintenance,” said Tegart. “There is a $36 million lift over the next three years for road maintenance — that’s on top of the $400 million we already spend each year — and some of that money will be going towards winter maintenance.

“I think that’s really good news for ridings like ours that have some highways that are extremely challenging in winter. We’ve certainly heard from people in the area, and my office has met with senior people in the ministry,” she said.

A petition circulating around Merritt requesting improved winter maintenance of Nicola Valley-region highways has gathered over 1,000 signatures, though organizers have said in the past that the problem isn’t a lack of funds.

RURAL

The Rural Dividend program is $75 million set aside to help rural communities diversify their economies, though what exactly that will look like remains to be seen. “They are just finalizing the process and it is expected that that process will open up this spring,” said Tegart. “We’ve certainly given communities the heads up to the fact that it is coming and to think about projects and try to be a little bit prepared.”

The Farmers’ Food Donation Tax Credit is a way to incentivize and reward farmers and ranchers for giving back to the community, by crediting them 25 per cent of the fair market value of qualifying agricultural products — which includes beef — that are donated.

“That’s for school programs and also food banks — trying to recognize that a lot of our farmers are being extremely helpful to vulnerable people, and we want them to be recognized,” said Tegart.

WILDFIRE PROTECTION

There are several items in the budget that reflect the growing concern of wildfires in the province.

“We certainly heard a lot after the fires of last summer — and the fires of probably the last five years,” said the MLA. “In recognition of that, there are dollars being committed to helping communities ensure they are as safe as they can be from wildfires.”

One of those is a new organization called the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, established at a cost of $85 million. This society will “work towards wildfire prevention and mitigation through forest fuel management, reforestation and habitat restoration,” said a B.C. government press release.

Another wildfire prevention budget item: the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative for Community Wildfire Protection Plans, Fire Smart Planning Activities and Fuel Management Projects — at a cost of $10 million.

“After the fires last summer in the Okanagan, and the number of fires we’re seeing due to drought, government heard concerns from communities in those areas, and the announcements here are reflective of that.”

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