Council Matters for April 29, 2020

Council met for about 2 hours in open meetings on April 29, 2020. Here are some highlights from our Special Council Meeting.

I began by making a change to the agenda to discuss the proposed Social Planner position that staff initially recommended be included in the 2020 budget. Due to the budgetary challenges precipitated by COVID-19 we’ve faced this year, Council decided to rescind the motion made at the March 4 Regular Council Meeting to receive a presentation from John Horn and re-consider hiring the Social Planner position. Council then directed staff to postpone consideration of this position until we look at the 2021 budget.

Next, I gave my Mayor’s Report. During which I provided an update on the COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Cowichan Task Force’s work, that I have been a part of. The Task Force has submitted a proposal to BC Housing to provide shelter for those who are homeless or precariously housed. This plan proposes the creation of small-scale outdoor tenting sites with fewer than 12 people, not located in parks. These will house 10-12 people and be called “family clusters.” These sites will allow for access to washrooms and running water. In addition, hotel rooms will be provided to those who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and will help our vulnerable residents shelter in place. Assessment and placement into hotel rooms will be at the discretion of Island Health.

Currently, there are approximately 140 people in our community without access to shelter, while tenting sites may not be ideal it’s a step in the right direction for our vulnerable residents. BC Housing and Emergency Management BC reviewed our plan and today BC Housing approved a budget for the COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Cowichan Task Force Response Plan, of $ 61,060 monthly (until June) plus a one-time startup funding $50,000. the Cowichan Housing Association will likely receive and disburse these funds. I am very happy to see this initiative move forward. At this time, I am not sure what additional supports and wrap-around services will look like, I have always been committed to having these as part of the solution to the many crises we are facing, but this is a great first step in the right direction.

Next on the agenda, Council considered the North Cowichan/Duncan Integrated RCMP Facility Loan Authorization No. 3787. North Cowichan will borrow the total project amount, $48,000,000, construct the new RCMP detachment, and then the RCMP will pay back their portion, about 60% of the $48M. The municipality is required to cover the remaining 40%, approximately $19,200,000. The initial estimated cost was sitting around $40 million; however, this was not a firm estimate based on the actual design and layout of the new building. The actual cost to borrow has come out of an architect’s analysis to build the proposed design of the new detachment. After some discussion around the cost, Council gave first three readings to the Bylaw. With the bylaw process now in motion, the Alternate Approval Process, to gain elector assent for the borrowing, can now be initiated. You can find out more on pages 13-18 of the Agenda.

Council then adopted the Remuneration Amendment Bylaw to enact the 6-month, 10% salary reduction for Mayor and Council. We debated this at our previous Council Meeting and agreed to the reduction as a step to help reduce the overall municipal tax increase for North Cowichan residents and businesses this year.

Next, Council considered an Alternative Municipal Tax Collection Scheme to align the 2020 property tax due date with the Province’s new due date for non-residential property classes of September 30, 2020. This was proposed to help provide some financial relief for residents who have been financially impacted by COVOD-19. The Alternative Tax Collection Scheme will only apply to residential taxes for those homeowners who are not eligible for the Provincial tax payment deadline extension. Council adopted this Bylaw, which extends the tax payment deadline for you from the usual July 2 date to September 30. You can read the staff report on pages 22-25 of the Agenda.

In light of COVID-19, staff proposed ongoing electronic Regular Council meetings for the safety of elected officials, staff, and members of the public. While staff did not recommend proceeding with electronic Public Hearings at this time, it is anticipated the Province of BC will announce concessions to hold electronic (or other alternatives like outdoor physically distanced) Public Hearings. Council decided to proceed with Regular Council Meetings resuming a regular meeting schedule. You can find staff’s recommendations on activities that can safely resume on pages 29-39 of the Agenda.

Finally, Council directed me to write a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, with copies being sent to Vancouver Island municipalities, to request the reinstatement of the financial hardship property tax deferment program. This would provide support to property owners facing hardships from COVID-19, who are not eligible for the existing property tax deferment programs. This would mean the province would lend North Cowichan the property tax amount owed by a given homeowner, having the homeowner essentially borrow the amount needed to pay their 2020 property taxes. This amount is then re-paid at the time of sale, or when settling an estate.

While our Regular Council meetings will continue to take place electroncially for the time being, we still encourage residents to send their input about agenda items. Council meetings agendas can be found here, and you can email your input, up to 30 minutes before the start of a meeting, to

Thank you for reading and staying informed!

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan