Paula Justus

Paula Justus

B.C. gaming grants restored

Maple Ridge river watchers back on line for gambling money, after Wed. announcement

The Alouette River Management Society is back on the list for getting gambling money – if it ever was off it.

Premier Christy Clark announced Wednesday that the total amount of gaming grants doled out this year will increase by $15 million – of which $8 million will be dished out to environmental, adult arts and sports groups, as well as animal welfare causes.

Amanda Crowston, at the Rivers Heritage Centre in Maple Ridge, was pleased with the announcement.

The river group previously got $40,000 a year as part of a three-year program, then had to apply under another category, after environmental groups were disqualified from seeking gaming funds.

The reversal follows the recent completion of the Community Gaming Grant Review, by Skip Triplett.

“We’re very pleased that they have reinstated funding towards the environment,” Crowston said Thursday. “We provide many more services than just saving fish.” ARMS hosts classroom workshops, offers programs and community events and helps run the Allco fish hatchery on the South Alouette River.

With the help of labour provided by inmates at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, the hatchery produces about 750,000 juvenile fish yearly.

Crowston said the society could still apply for special funding in mid-January and attempt to get part of the $2 million alotted for environmental groups.

Another $7 million will go to child development societies, arts groups, fairs and festivals, while the government is also looking at offering multi-year funding.

That kind of support over several years would make it easier for the Family Education and Support Centre to offer its programs that help needy families.

“Running a program one year at a time doesn’t work very well. It’s not fair to clients.

“It’s very stressful not just for the clients, but for the whole organization,” said executive-director Faye Luxemburg-Hyam.

Last year, the Family Education and Support Centre in Maple Ridge saw its funds from gambling slashed to $49,000 in 2010-2011, from $72,000 the year before.

The centre has applied for $95,000 for 2011-2012.

“We’re still trying to catch up from the last, huge devastating cuts that we experienced,” previously, said Luxemburg-Hyam.

In 2006, the centre received about $115,000 in gaming dollars.

The Family Education and Support Centre offers courses in parenting, health and safety and mental health issues to families in need and has a core staff of nine.

Luxemburg-Haym said a long-term strategy to deal with poverty is needed, otherwise the need for funding only will increase.

“We see a lot of families at the centre. The need this year around our hamper program was absolutely huge.” With the cold weather settling in, people are now asking for coats and blankets.

At the Ridge Meadows Child Development Centre Society, executive-director Audrey Taylor pointed out its gambling funding was cut 20 per cent, down to $100,000 in 2009, and remains at that level.

The society has already had its funds of that amount confirmed for this year and is awaiting word from gaming on whether it can apply for more.

The reduction wasn’t as deep as it was for other agencies. “But it was significant and it affected us and it’s still affecting us,” Taylor said.

“We’re dealing with vulnerable children and their families and every dollar counts. We have long waiting lists. It makes a big difference in the services we can provide.”

The money only can be used for the First Steps Program, which helps families of toddlers with developmental delays until they’re of school age. Waiting lists for programs at the centre stretch anywhere from six months to a year.

“It allows us to increase our staffing.”

Taylor added that the society used to get bingo funds in the spring, when its fiscal year starts. When the government eliminated those in favour of community grants, “things have been very unsettled since then.

“I’m hoping with the grant review process over, that will stabilize.”

In total, Maple Ridge received $2.47 million in grants in 2010-11.

NDP critic Shane Simpson said Wednesday that Triplett’s effort to hear from community groups was sincere, but Clark has ignored it.

“[Clark] has expanded the eligibility, but not increased the size of the pot, so there will essentially be more groups looking for a smaller pot of money,” Simpson said.

The B.C. government now takes in about $1 billion a year from casinos, pub games, online gambling and lotteries.

Triplett’s report said the grant program was established in 1998, to replace revenue charitable groups raised by running their own casinos and bingo games.

Over the years, eligibility rules were changed several times, but the purpose of the grant program was never formally defined, Triplett wrote.