Council Matters for March 18, 2020

Council met for about half an hour on March 18, 2020. With just one councillor attending in person, and the others participating via teleconference, it was an unprecedented meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting began with amendments to the agenda. We removed agenda item 5.1, a delegation from the Cowichan Green Community, item 10.1, reconsideration of the Senior Social and Housing Planner Position, item 10.2, request for reconsideration of the BC Energy Step Code Decision, and item 11.2, establishment of a Notice of Motion Procedure. We also added two new business items, so that we could focus today’s decision making in response to COVID-19.

Council discussed two items pertaining to the 2020-2024 Financial Plan; the first was an increase in garbage rates for 2020. Council directed staff to increase the annual residential waste collection rate from $91 to $102 per household. Curbside collection fees are user-based (not tax-based) and this increase relates to the increased costs associated with the provision of this service, which is why we agreed to move forward with this decision today. The second item was in regards to water and sewer rates. Council agreed to the recommended increases as outlined in the staff report from the March 4 Committee of the Whole meeting. These details are available in the staff report on pages 38-58 of that agenda.  To be clear, these increases are tied to our fixed costs, which will not be impacted by the COVID-19 situation. 

However, Council deferred discussion on our actual property taxes rates until staff can prepare a report on the revenue and expenditures implications of our current slow-down. Provincial legislation mandates a deadline of May 15 for municipalities to finalize their tax rates, but we have asked the province to extend that deadline to give us more time to consider these issues. We have also asked for an extension of the property tax payment deadline beyond the current July 2 date, in recognition of the impacts the current crisis may have on people’s ability to pay by early July. While the provincial government hasn’t yet agreed to our request, Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson has committed to making the consideration of this matter one of her highest priorities in the coming days. 

Next we considered the two new business items added to the agenda. First was a discussion around future meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Council agreed to suspend all future Meetings of Council, Committees, and other Advisory Bodies of Council until the time where social distancing measures are no longer needed. Council will only hold emergency virtual meetings, if needed, until further notice.

Second, Council agreed to a 90-day postponement of public engagement processes currently underway, or scheduled to be undertaken, effective immediately. Council strongly agreed that these precautionary measures are necessary at this time for the health and safety of our community. Staff and Council will re-evaluate resuming engagement before the end of the 90-day period if it can proceed in a safe, fulsome, and inclusive way.

At this time, we do not know when the next Regular Council Meeting will take place, but we’ll be sure to keep you informed and up-to-date through our regular communication channels. Thank you for reading Council Matters. 

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan