Council Matters for November 4, 2020

Council met for about an hour and a half during our Regular Council meeting on November 4, 2020.

I began the meeting with my Mayor’s Report and announced that North Cowichan received an exciting $4.4 million grant from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing under the Local Government COVID-19 Safety Restart Grant. The grant will help North Cowichan cover increased operating costs and decreased revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A relatively significant example of how staff assume this funding can be applied is to offset the reduced revenues from the Cowichan Aquatic Centre and Fuller Lake Arena due to COVID-19, rather than increasing taxes to cover the shortfall. The loss in revenue is estimated by staff to be $1.1 million for 2021.

As staff continue to prepare the 2021 budget for Council’s consideration, they will focus on applying the grant to basic operating costs first, and then determining if there are other eligible areas to which the grant could be applied. This funding is excellent news for North Cowichan, and using the grant could help reduce North Cowichan’s projected tax increase for the 2021 budget. Additionally, should any remaining grant funds be carried forward, they could also be applied in 2022. I was extremely pleased to also share that Cowichan Tribes received $24 million from the federal government to reduce the impact of climate change on the Cowichan Watershed’s ability to deal with increased winter storms and summer drought. For more information, the full press release from the Government of Canada can be found here.

Council heard from a delegation, the Cowichan Neighbourhood House (CNHA), which presented a brief overview of their work and history. The CNHA is a volunteer-run resource and youth centre in Chemainus that provides educational and recreational activities for families, youth and individuals, and vital resources for those in need. All regular services are free of charge, including workshops, and are run by local volunteers. In 1997, the CNHA moved into the old Chemainus Fire Hall. After the old fire hall was slated for demolition for the new library, the CNHA moved into their current location at 9806 Willow Street. The building is owned by another organization and will be up for sale at the end of the year, when the CNHA’s lease expires. The CNHA requested support to either purchase the building or have North Cowichan purchase the building and consider leasing it back to them. Council will consider this request further at a later meeting.

Next, Council considered and approved the Temporary Borrowing Bylaw to allow staff to borrow funds for the new RCMP facility on an as-needed basis instead of borrowing and paying interest on the full $48 million at this time. The full staff report can be found on pages 31–33 of the agenda.

Council considered a Housing Agreement Bylaw for proposed affordable housing projects at 9800 Willow Street and 3191 Sherman Road. These projects began in 2016 with Council supporting, in principle, entering into a 99-year lease with the Community Land Trust Foundation of BC to develop municipally-owned rental properties for affordable housing. The Housing Agreement Bylaw includes key points, such as stipulating the income criteria for potential tenants and other terms and conditions for ensuring the projects are affordable (the full Housing Agreement Bylaw can be found on pages 36-48 of the agenda). Council gave first, second, and third reading to the Bylaw and will consider adoption at a later meeting.

Then, Council accepted the Third Quarter Financial Report, which indicates how we are doing operationally compared to the budget. As operations and service levels continue to increase through almost six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, revenues other than taxation levies and expenditures remain challenging to predict in some areas, especially at our recreational facilities. To date, 33% ($8,541,171) of the capital budget has been committed. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of some projects due to delays in design work. For the operating budget, General Government Services are in line with the 2020 budget. The full report can be found on pages 125-150 of the agenda

Lastly, in response to the correspondence Council received regarding concerns over fireworks, Council expressed some concern over the Fireworks Bylaw at North Cowichan. As a result, Council asked staff to bring forward a report with proposed amendments to the bylaw for further discussion at a future council meeting.

Our next meeting will take place electronically on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, at 1:30 pm.

Thank you for reading and staying informed!

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan
T 250.746.3117