Alberta agriculture societies unsure of funding status with the province

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WATCH ABOVE: Community groups from hundreds of small Alberta towns want to know where their money is. Alberta Agriculture Societies were expecting grants months ago. It's money they say they need to keep operating buildings that act as the soul of rural Alberta. Fletcher Kent explains. – Sep 22, 2017

Agricultural societies across Alberta are getting frustrated with a lack of funding coming from the province.

Usually, they receive an annual grant in June that allows rural communities to operate things like local arenas, county fairs and community halls, however, no grant money has arrived so far this year.

The CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Tim Carson, said he hears from concerned communities everyday.

“Although they are volunteer organizations, they contribute a tremendous amount to not only the economic stimulus of rural Alberta, but also to the social health of those communities.”

According to an email sent by Carson to the agriculture societies across the province, the agriculture minister presented a “supportive case” for all agricultural societies to the Treasury Board on Monday.

He’s hoping to have a decision about the money early next week after the Treasury Board has heard from all ministries and goes before cabinet for approval.

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The delay is having a major effect on the “heart and hub” of many communities across the province, according to a statement from United Conservative Party interim leader Nathan Cooper.

“If the NDP took the time to actually listen to rural communities, they’d know that the delay in dispersing this grant money is negatively affecting these organizations that are the heart and hub of many communities in our province,” he said. “This funding doesn’t just go to ag societies – it ensures ball diamonds, curling rinks, summer festivals and more can operate.”

Alberta’s Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier tells Global News that concerned groups will soon have answers.

“I can ensure those agriculture societies that those funds will be coming out in the next few weeks,” he said.

Carlier also noted the province remains in a very difficult financial situation and he would not say how much money would be handed over.

In this spring’s provincial budget, the province allocated $8.6 million to agriculture societies.

Carlier said he is “hoping that we’re able to maintain some of that funding going forward to agriculture societies knowing how important they are to rural Albertans.”

For now, Carson said the uncertainty is a challenge for the people he represents.

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“They’ve only got a finite amount of dollars in the bank to pay the bills and things of that nature, so it’s a continued quest as to what might happen and when.”

The Alberta Treasury Board has indicated there may be cuts coming, but no word yet on how much.

Agricultural societies can be found in nearly 300 different communities across Alberta.

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