Council Matters for April 15, 2020

Council met for about 3 hours in open meetings on April 15, 2020. Here are some highlights from our Special Council Meeting.

Since this was our first virtual meeting, I opened with some procedural information before calling the meeting to order. I gave my Mayor’s Report next and highlighted North Cowichan’s measured, professional, and cautious response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thankful for the clear, articulate, and defensible steps we’ve taken under the direction of Mr. Swabey and the Senior Leadership Team. In these abnormal times, most days I’m in touch with many other elected officials and regional partners, including our Public Health Officer, so I can stay informed and raise issues specific to our community to senior levels of government. I also spend a lot of time responding to constituent inquiries and listening to your concerns, which is very important to me.

In addition to working with the Cowichan Leadership Group on a project to help house our most vulnerable and street entrenched persons, I join my regional and local government colleagues in speaking with Minister Selena Robinson weekly. I have been hopeful that Minister Robinson will help find a solution to one of the issues I’ve raised, the notion of delaying the property tax payment deadline to help provide some financial relief to our community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Finally, I spoke to my concern over the spike in ferry traffic over the long weekend. While the volume of traffic was down more than 90%, the fact remains that almost 15,000 people did choose to ride the ferries over the weekend. The concern, obviously, is the question of how many of those people were actually engaged in “essential travel.”  To address this issue, I convinced 24 Island Mayors and all the Regional District Chairs on the Island to join me in writing a letter to senior governments, imploring them to define “essential travel” and create an enforcement program before the May long weekend. 

Next, the Manager, Legislative Services read out public input that was received via email. Since we received input from 7 people, the speaker limit of 5 was waived to allow all input received to be read out.

Council then gave first, second, and third reading, and adopted Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Bylaw 3787. This Bylaw will allow North Cowichan to borrow up to $10M as a stop-gap, should the Province extend the property tax payment deadline from July 2, 2020, to September 30, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a typical year, North Cowichan would have enough cash reserves for operating capital to cover the 6-month gap between the end of our fiscal year and the tax collection due date. However,  if the Province were to extend the property tax deadline from June to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipality may need to establish another source to fund the additional three months of operation without being able to draw upon property tax revenues. The Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Bylaw has no immediate impact and will not be not drawn upon unless we need the money. And this kind of borrowing has to paid back immediately when the property taxes are collected. 

Next, Council considered the 2020 budget. We had originally been looking at a tax increase of just over 4%. Since tax rates were not reviewed at the March 18, 2020, Council Meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Council asked staff to revaluate operating and capital budgets. Upon doing so, staff came back with a recommendation for a 1.78% tax increase. 

Council chose to further cut the budget with the following measures:

  • Directing Staff to not hire the proposed 3 new positions in the last quarter of 2020 and reconsider in 2021;
  • Reducing the Mayor’s and Council’s compensation by 10% from May 1 – October 1, 2020; and,
  • Reducing the Council travel/professional development and office budgets by $30,000.

In the end, Council adopted the Tax Rates Bylaw with a final net tax increase for 2020 of 1.41%.

Then, Council considered moving forward with the Alternative Approval Process for the new RCMP Detachment notwithstanding the 90-day pause on engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Council had approved the AAP and a communications plan in 2019, the communications plan needed to be revised to focus more on more digital communication if the project was to move ahead safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Council directed staff to proceed with the AAP and approved the revised communications plan.

On March 18, 2020, at the last Regular Council Meeting, Council passed a 90-day pause on public engagement. Yesterday, Council decided to reconsider this pause, and directed staff to liaise with the OCP and Forestry Engagement consultants to explore ways resume engagement digitally in a safe and fulsome way. Staff were directed to bring a report back to Council for their consideration at the next meeting.

Thank you for reading and staying informed! Visit www.northcowichan.ca/COVID19 for more on how North Cowichan is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and stay tuned for the next electronic Special Council Meeting.

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan
250.746.3117
mayor@northcowichan.ca