Council Matters - March 20, 2013

At its March 20 regular meeting, Council received a presentation from Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback, and Earle Plain, Air Quality Meteorologist at the Ministry of Environment, on the health impacts of fine particulate and the current state of air quality in the Cowichan Region. Scientific studies confirm that smoke and fine particulates are damaging to the heart and lungs. Unfortunately, for the past three years, our region has exceeded both daily maximums and the annual average. Outdoor burning and wood heating generally contribute about 45% of fine particulate. Through incremental steps to reduce these sources, we should be able to improve our air quality. We do participate in the regional Woodstove Rebate Program to encourage replacement of inefficient wood stoves. To address backyard burning, Council have asked staff to bring forward a report on how we might reduce this major contributor to air pollution.

Later in the meeting, Council debated a motion to cap the 2013 tax increase at 2%. The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) presented a report detailing the work done over five months of budget meetings that began in October, to arrive at a 3.82% tax increase. Council had reviewed its priorities which included maintaining service levels, community development initiatives and infrastructure renewal. Major cost drivers such as inflation, staff-related contractual increases and debt servicing were taken into account. Working to keep any tax increase in the 3% to 4% range, tax for capital projects was reduced.

Council asked in November about the impact of a 0% increase and were advised that the Municipality would need to cut 8 to 12 employees and that service levels would be severely decreased.

At the next two meetings, staff brought forward both cost savings and supplemental items for consideration. Council made choices on what to include and what to remove. On February 12, staff brought forward a draft 2013-2017 Financial Plan which Council accepted and presented at the Financial Plan Open House one week later.

The motion to cap the budget at 2% and require the CAO to make the necessary changes in the budget came in March, quite late in the process and as quite a surprise after all the work that had been done to reach a responsible tax increase  in time for the Open House. After considerable debate, Council concluded that while it might be appropriate to consider a 2% baseline early in the process next budget year, it was not appropriate or productive to do so this year after an extensive budget process that has produced a number which accurately reflects what it will cost to run the Municipality in line with Council's principles and priorities.

At this point, the proposed tax increase is 3.82%. Council still has to make decisions before May 15 on grants-in-aid, whether or not to add 1% to fund Climate Action and Energy Plan initiatives, and how to apportion the tax rates over the different classes -- all of which could affect the final number.

Council meetings are generally held the first and third Wednesdays of each month and as we finalize the budget, there will be additional meetings on April 2 and on April 9. Council invites you to attend these meetings to give us your input.

Don't forget to tell your friends and family to sign up to receive Council Matters!  Select Notifications on ourhome page.