Council Matters for March 3, 2021

Council met for about 2 hours in open session on March 3, 2021. Here are some highlights from the meeting:

In my Mayor’s Report, I shared that I was recently on a conference call with other Island Mayors; a session with Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne, during which she gave us a heads up of some new Provincial funding coming soon for local governments. We can expect more information from the province on this, but as a region, we are already thinking collaboratively with the CVRD, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan, and City of Duncan on ways to possibly leverage the funding to benefit the whole region, and not just our individual municipalities. No final decision has been made on this, but we may find that a smaller piece of a bigger regional funding pie may actually be more beneficial than having the Municipality “go it alone” in any potential funding application. 

The Cowichan Green Community was scheduled as a delegation, but they unfortunately had to postpone their presentation due to technical issues. We can look forward to hearing from them at another meeting in the near future.

Next we adopted the Reserve Funds Establishment Amendment Bylaw that will officially establish a COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant Reserve. The purpose of the reserve fund is to hold provincial funds that have been supplied to compensate for increased operating costs and reduced revenues due to COVID-19. North Cowichan received more than $4-million dollars under the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant, and Council has decided to spread the disbursement of those funds out over several years. The new Reserve Fund that was established by this Bylaw will be where the funds will be allocated until they are spent in future budget years. 

Council then considered and adopted amendments to the water, sewer and garbage rates in the Fees and Charges Bylaw per the increases recommended during our budget discussions on utility rates. We also agreed to end a temporary fee reduction for Development Variance Permits that was instituted in recognition of COVID. (The Board of Variance has not met in almost a year, but those meetings - and the normal processes around DVP applications - have now resumed.)

Next, we awarded a contract for the design, construction oversight, and administration for the Joint Utility Board Outfall Relocation Project to Parsons Incorporated for $6,105,722.40 (excluding GST). This award is subject to approval from the City of Duncan’s Council, because they are co-owners of the sewage lagoons, and partners with us on the Joint Utility Board. During Parsons’ first phase of the project, they will study the route options, including considering feedback gathered from First Nations and during community consultations before making a final recommendation on pipeline routing.

During New Business, Council debated Councillor Justice’s motion to seek advice from key stakeholders in relation to the land use policy development to be included in the revised Official Community Plan. Council agreed to formally ask Cowichan Land Trust, Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, Cowichan Watershed Board, Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society, and Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association, to provide their opinions on what they believe is necessary to achieve Council’s goals of restoration and regeneration of the municipality’s lakes, streams, rivers, and estuaries, and of protecting biodiversity.

Next, we discussed two motions put forward by Councillor Marsh. The first was in regards to the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program. This program, simply put, will allow homeowners to borrow money from private lenders to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes, while the loans would be paid back through property taxes. Council agreed to write a letter expressing North Cowichan’s interest in the creation of a PACE program. Council also decided to write a letter expressing support for the Help Cities Lead Campaign. This campaign is referenced in a number of Minister Mandate Letters issued by the premier to his incoming Cabinet Ministers last November. The program deals with upgraded GHG requirements for new buildings, PACE financing, and home energy labelling. More information on these two motions can be found on pages 95-103 of the agenda.

Council then discussed a request from TELUS Communications Inc. for support of their application to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada for grant funding under the Universal Broadband Fund. The fund is designed to improve the accessibility of high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities. Council agreed to the letter of support, but specified that the support would be for any service provider, not just TELUS. The letter will also express some reservations about the funding of 5-G technology under the program, pending a World Health Organization study of the health effects of that technology.

Our next Regular Council meeting will take place electronically on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 at 1:30 pm.

Thank you for reading and staying informed!

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan
T 250.746.3117