Com­mu­nity fund pro­vided ben­e­fits to many Is­lan­ders

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

The Is­land Com­mu­nity Fund (ICF) is one of those worth­while projects that as­sisted mostly ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and smaller groups across P.E.I. Thus, it was dis­ap­point­ing when the ICF was not re­newed this year and $2 mil­lion was moved to the trans­porta­tion depart­ment to lever­age more money un­der a fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram.

A quick re­view of the fund shows in­vest­ments from a low of $575 for sig­nage in Cen­tral Bed­eque to a high of $2 mil­lion for the civic cen­tre in Cornwall. But many of the grants were for $5,000 to $50,000 and while the fund didn’t get a lot of fanfare, it pro­vided a ma­jor boost to fire de­part­ments, le­gions, play­grounds, se­niors clubs, recre­ation fields, halls, and com­mu­nity projects through­out the province — groups that needed just a lit­tle help to over­come a big road­block.

The ICF was launched, as a six-year pro­ject to as­sist com­mu­ni­ties with in­fra­struc­ture needs, as a com­ple­ment to the Ru­ral Ac­tion Plan. The fund rep­re­sents a pro­vin­cial in­vest­ment of $27.5 mil­lion span­ning 2008-2014, tar­get­ing small projects and strate­gic ini­tia­tives.

Gov­ern­ment ar­gues the fund achieved its goals but there was more to be done. A sud­den flurry of an­nounce­ments just prior to the pro­vin­cial elec­tion call — an es­ti­mated 17 projects in eight rid­ings — raised some eye­brows amid sug­ges­tions it was turn­ing into a Lib­eral slush fund to at­tract votes.

The fund of­fi­cially ex­pired March 31 and the province cer­tainly had the op­tion to re­new or ex­tend the pro­gram. It was done be­fore and could have been re­newed again.

The province ar­gues that by trans­fer­ring the $2 mil­lion to trans­porta­tion, it will al­low gov­ern­ment to ac­cess $7 mil­lion in ad­di­tional funds through the fed­eral Build­ing Canada Fund. Gov­ern­ment fur­ther ar­gues this will in­crease fund­ing to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

That’s un­likely since match­ing dol­lars is the usual pre­req­ui­site for in­fra­struc­ture projects. Larger Is­land com­mu­ni­ties like Char­lot­te­town, Summerside, Cornwall and Stratford might be in a po­si­tion to ac­cess this ex­tra lever­aged cash, but not Souris, Georgetown, Rus­tico, Hunter River, O’Leary or Tignish.

And, as the Op­po­si­tion pointed out in the Leg­is­la­ture, it will likely ex­clude com­mu­nity groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions such as ru­ral fire de­part­ments that can’t match funds and thus won’t be able to ac­cess small grants for up­grades or projects.

The province of­fers a weak re­sponse, sug­gest­ing that smaller amounts of money might be avail­able though grants from other de­part­ments or pro­grams in gov­ern­ment. Re­ally? Pro­vid­ing such grants was the rea­son why the ICF was de­vel­oped in the first place, so why not keep it in place?

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