A week and a bit ago over 300 people joined together on the dike at Somenos Marsh to show their support for the marsh. From various walks of life they had at least one thing in common. They care about the marsh and want to see it cared for and want to know that their local government shares the same concern and will protect this precious ecosystem.
Someone asked the question on Facebook, 'How many politicians did you see?" My answer? (though I wasn't able to be there) -- over 300 politicians were there. Before you name me mad, hear me out.
Someone whose wisdom I consulted in 2011, as I allowed my name to stand to serve my neighbours on North Cowichan Council was, then, Esquimalt Councillor Ali Gaul.
In an address to the Esquimalt Resident's Association, Ali articulated something that resonates for me -- who is a politician
-- well worth the read.
The definition that she settled on and was most comfortable with for who a politician is?: "someone who is actively engaged in shaping public policy”
Under this definition, every person who took the time to write a letter to Council and/or the ALC, every person who shared their concern with a neighbour or a friend about the future of the marsh, is a politician. As are the folks who are trying to save all of Echo Heights in Chemainus. And we need you. It takes many people to build community. Sometimes its messy and confusing and makes us mad, sad or ? Such is life.
It's a huge responsibility to be one of those charged with making binding decisions Those of us who are taking our turn to do so are enriched and enabled to be better public policy shapers by you 'politicians'
on the street who give us feedback on the issues that concern you.
As I've said before, feedback from the public
is welcome. (though admittedly not enjoyable if it comes with snarkiness -- and terribly frustrating when its ill informed)
All fodder for growth I have learnt.
The newspapers print the controversial items and its good they do. It informs and calls out the politician in the every person and gets some of them riled up enough to step forward and have their say. And the more information Council has -- the better the chance of a good decision. Rarely will any decision please everyone, but everyone can give their input if its something they really care about. (and who knows, yours might the creative innovative idea that takes off)
There are many opportunities to have your say. Every Council meeting has a public input portion at the beginning and a question period at the end. A current opportunity to weigh in is the Crofton Community Plan. An Advisory Working Group has been working with MNC and a consulting team has been chosen. The initial meeting of all three took place last week.
This is your chance to give input into what you would like to see in Crofton. Two 'sounding boards' will be up at key locations in Crofton where residents and visitors can post comments and suggestions. An initial Open House is scheduled for Tuesday, November 19, 2013 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Crofton Community Centre. A presentation from the consultant will take place at 7 p.m. So come on out and share your vision to help create a blueprint for Crofton's future.
Further background on the plan can be accessed here.
And you can find links to give your feedback online.
So hope to see you around the community as we are each doing your part to make this valley a place where neighbours are working together, to make our future strong.
Oh, and -- Happy Halloween!
I had the honour and the privilege of presenting North Cowichan's Climate Action and
Energy Plan to the UBCM's session: Building and Protecting Sustainable Communities.
It was quite a challenge to incapsulate our plan in five minutes, but here it is:
Good afternoon. North Cowichan is a community of communities. 31,000 people sharing a rural district covering 195 square K’s. We have 3 separate urban areas, a large working municipal forest and a lot of ALR land.
Local government response is key to climate. Decisions on land use, transportation, building standards and waste management influence more than 45 % of local carbon emissions – we’re committed to do our part for future generations.
We knew that to get a platinum plan, all the pieces had to fit together. With funding support from Hydro we hired an innovative consultant – Vancouver’s own Sustainability Solutions Group. We sought input from staff, Council’s Climate Change Advisory Committee and the public at large.
Ours is not a cookie cutter plan – it didn’t rely on any other projects but looked at our unique context. One piece SSG brought to the table was their open source land-use scenario model – GHGProof – our staff were trained to use it and can change the plan based on evolving local needs.
Consultation was extensive. For over a year, we sought input from many members of the community through meetings, workshops and online tools. This resulted in thoughtful and insightful conversations that informed the plan. More than 400 people participated.
We took a common-sense approach – we looked at cost-benefit and payback analysis to vet recommended actions. All of the nine major recommendations have local economic and social impetus and local and global scientific impetus.
Meeting our OCP target of 33% emissions reduction over 2007 levels, by 2020 turned out to be a major challenge and the target was changed to 33% reduction by 2025 – 57% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. A marathon rather than a sprint.
Some of the innovative tools used were Ideascale -- an online platform that garnered 4,000 comments, – GHG Proof land-use scenario modelling and measuring the Social Cost of Carbon. Another tool we affectionately refer to as the MAC
We were one of the 1st local governments to use this tool --- it shows the most effective ways to generate savings and reduce emissions. The more negative and wide the bar the better the strategy. 80 % of our emissions come from private homes and vehicles – above the provincial average. Density wins by a wide margin.
That takes time. To speed it up, Council passed a Revitalization Tax by-law – a tax holiday to qualifying developments and green businesses. How else can we reach our target? Two Other heavy hitters – are greater local food production and increasing our forest cover.
Steady implementation of the plan will not only help us hit our targets. -- and save tax dollars – it saves residents a whole lot of cash too. By 2050, a projected savings of $ 4,000 per household in today’s dollars.
Our Climate Action and Energy Plan makes sense. It’s projected to have created 613 local jobs by 2050. The deliverables are clear: tangible, measurable benefits to the environment, meeting our reduction targets (and commitments) and our residents and muni operations save money.
So Council’s committed, , we’ve got some community engagement, the committee’s excited – what comes next? We’re working on implementation and ways to keep sharing all the plan has to offer with the public – both of which will be ongoing for many years to come. So what’s missing?
How do we pay for our part of it? Hydro co funds an energy manager. Based on a telephone survey Council created a Climate and Energy Action Fund – a dedicated half a percent tax lift to fund programs and leverage other money. Replenished by the savings generated it becomes a revolving fund.
Once adopted – we considered how to share it for greater buy in. The Committee hosted a Communityforclimate Fair – a fun and educational family day with free food & entertainment. Fully funded by partnerships with local groups and businesses people were shown practical ways to reduce their footprint and save energy – we even had a Marimba band!
The task may feel daunting – yet each one doing our part will make al the difference. As Goethe said, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” Thank you.
One of the reasons I wanted to get involved at the Council table was to improve communication between the public and North Cowichan. Change comes slowly, yet there is much that has been accomplished. Early in the mandate, Council instituted a public input period on the agenda which comes before the main business of Council.
So everyone has a chance to say how they feel about any item on that meeting's agenda before
Council debates and decides. And we still have question period at the end. Our meetings are streamed lived on our website
and also archived.
A Communications Committee has been formed and is working on a communications strategy that will help things flow more positively in the future.
We've taken a second look at a few decisions along the way....the siting of the library in Chemainus and the road at Stony Hill both come readily to mind.
I was recently on a workshop with folks from around the province, and a straw poll indicated that not one person had ever heard of North Cowichan. Cowichan valley, yes. Duncan, yes. Well you get the drift....
So I'm happy that Council recently approved a new 'logo', part of a branding process to put us on people's mental map.
And......drum roll......today is the 'soft launch' of the brand new North Cowichan Website.
I've just had a poke around it and I confess, I think it's beautiful -- its more intuitive and has better navigation and search tools than our old site -- so you should easily be able to find what you are looking for. Research shows that websites become more useful tools and more trusted sources of information when the content is timely, relevant and easily searchable.
Apparently 22 % of users access our site from mobile devices, so the new site is mobile friendly. It even includes an optional large text, high contrast view for those of us who don't have 20/20 vision anymore.
And the main purpose in my mind is for staff and Council to be able to get information out faster. So follow us on Facebook
. If you haven't already, sign up under "Notifications"
to get Council Matters (written after each Council meeting), traffic alerts, employment opportunities, updates on the Climate Action and Energy Plan
as well as Planning and Development Updates
-- there you can learn about the collaboration with the City of Duncan on a Local Area Plan for the area around VIU and James Street Beverly Street. You can assist in the future development of the area. We want the input of residents, visitors, business owners, landowners and other stakeholders to help establish a vision, goals and objectives for that area for the next 30 years.
Staff will be at the Duncan Farmer's Market this Saturday, August 24 and Saturday September 7, to answer any questions and listen to your comments on the plan.
You can also make comments and follow the ongoing discussions on the Planning and Development page
or visit PlaceSpeak
, an online community consultation platform.
Crofton is also working on a Local Area Plan
and Council is going to be looking at zoning by-laws throughout the municipality over the next year. All of these issues will involve consultation with the public.
The times indeed are a changing. Hope you take advantage of the chance to have your say. It takes us all to make a community. And that's what we are in North Cowichan, a community of communities. Enjoy these last weeks of summer in what is arguably one of the most beautiful places to live anywhere.
Wow, it's been almost a month since the meeting where Council voted to ask staff to develop a report on developing 20% of Echo Heights and protecting 80% as park, in perpetuity. I meant to publish this right after the meeting, but 'life' took over. Both my father and stepfather died within 3 days of each other in early June. An intense time for our family.So.....in the spirit of 'better late than never", below is what I said at Council about Echo Heights. BTW, if you ever want to hear for yourself what a Council member says on any issue, all of our Council meetings are streamed live -- and left on the website for you to watch at your leisure. If you want to be informed about most things North Cowichan, right in your inbox -- sign up on Notify Me. Having been accused in the Chemainus local press of not trying to convince my colleagues to save 100% of Echo Heights (inexplicably by someone who was in the room when I spoke) -- I tell you folks -- sadly, the press can very often be misleading -- which is very disappointing to me because I think people have a right to make their own judgments based on the facts and I can tell you, not only are we mandated by law to be transparent, but the current NC Council is dedicated to better communication with the public.So do your part and make it easier (and cheaper) for us to tell you what's up. If you would rather listen to what I said in support of saving Echo Heights, click here and if you don't want to listen for a couple of hours, go to 1:35 minutes. If you want to listen to everything that was said about Echo Heights at that meeting, start at 40 minutes into the tape. (yes, it was a long discussion) The staff report is valuable for background and begins at 54:34 minutes.
"I appreciate the work that has been put into the report, and all the work that has been done in the previous years on this little forest dubbed ‘Echo Heights”. After sitting at this table for a year and a half, I more fully understand the need to sometimes develop municipally owned land to pay for projects the community wants so as to keep taxes affordable.
We do have to balance development and conservation. We owe it to those who will come after us to use our resources wisely to both keep it affordable to live here and protect the natural environments that make it desirable to live here.
How do we decide what is balanced in the case of this particular forest?
I’ve come to know only too well the financial pressures on North Cowichan. Pressures to provide services and not raise taxes. To do more with less. To support growth while preserving our natural assets. To attempt to address a failing economy and a rapidly changing climate. To do our part to create a sustainable region for all who live here. So many pressures. Sitting in this chair is not an easy job and there are few easy answers. Each of us around this table want what’s best for this municipality and its citizens -- though we may differ on what we think that is.
And the staff’s recommendation of 80/20 seems on the surface of things to be a balanced one. One that I seriously considered supporting.
For me it keeps coming back to the fact that Echo Heights is a recovering
Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem. The CDF Biogeoclimatic Zone you might remember, comprises a tiny 0.3 % of the Province’s entire land area. And its mainly here, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island.
Old-growth Coastal Douglas Fir forests once dominated the shores of the Salish Sea, from Campbell River to Victoria. More than 99 % of them have already been lost to human development. For our seaside towns and villages, for the railroad and road systems that span the east coast of the island. For the farms and estates that populate our coast. For our single family homes on large lots with views.
We are already way out of balance on the CDF zone and if you’ll forgive me, it has gotten the short end of the stick.
At around 54 acres, Echo Heights forest is small but rich. Besides Douglas Fir (some 60-80 years old), it has Garry Oak meadows, a sizeable wetland and a rocky outcropping. All in all four Environmentally Sensitive Areas. The taxpayers of North Cowichan are the stewards of this little forest. The people of the west coast are the stewards of the CDF zone for the whole world.
Because our west coast is the only corner of Earth that has this ecosystem and its almost all gone.
The Douglas firs are beautiful and rare – and vital to our whole region, for water capture and storage, drought protection, carbon storage and oxygen release. Moreover they’re home to more than 200 plant and animal species, many endangered. Just days ago the Victoria Times Colonist reported on efforts to reintroduce the Western Blue Bird to the Cowichan Valley, a bird once common here, but whose numbers have declined since the 1950’s because of the shrinking Garry oak habitat. Until last year, Western Blue birds had not nested on Vancouver Island since 1995 and were considered locally extinct.
And the Garry oak meadows – BC’s rarest ecosystem -- occur only in the Coastal Douglas Fir zone.
For decades, North Cowichan residents have enjoyed Echo Heights as a nature park, turning deer tracks into unpaved trails, posting small signs, providing maps and guest books, bringing school and college classes.
For centuries, the Penelakut Nation has held the area sacred -- a prayer station on journeys into the mountains, and one of the area’s richest sources of natural medicines.
The Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments all have policies to do everything they can to preserve these endangered Coastal Douglas Fir eco-sytem.
Currently zoned for development in the Official Community Plan Echo Heights has been slated for development for decades. Of course the OCP, like all our thinking, has changed a lot over time.
The latest version has a whole section – (2.2) "Guard Our Environment" – with the objective, "Protect local ecosystems and … restore the natural environment to maintain biodiversity, ecological health and integrity."
It pledges that "community growth … will be directed to areas with the least environmental sensitivity," and singles out the Coastal Douglas Fir Zone, vowing to seek opportunities to protect it.
Only 0.5% of the land base formerly occupied by CDF forest is now composed of "older forest" (greater than 120 years old). Some of the trees in this particular forest are 80 years old now.
To me, the pendulum has clearly swung so far toward “development” that we can never have true balance for this once abundant eco-system -- it's too late for balance. Now we must push back, saving our remaining rare and endangered forests, and their unique ecosystems, large or small, whatever stage of recovery they’re in so they can survive.
This thinking is supported by the recently adopted Climate Action and Energy Plan. The 8th recommendation of The Plan is to increase North Cowichan’s forested area. A large percentage of the Ideascale participants (about 56) mentioned preserving Echo Heights as a forest as an action on climate. Increasing tree cover improves the capacity for natural stormwater management, improves air quality, (something we have heard is often poor in the Cowichan Valley) reduces heat island effect and encourages habitat creation. Increased tree cover also has the potential to attract carbon offset investment.
Some will say its prudent to develop on the already disturbed areas and that is a point of view I have given serious consideration to. I can see the arguments for that position.
But as this report points out, there are a total of 65 acres of land currently undeveloped for housing that are now zoned for future development in Chemainus. At the densities we are encouraging, that is a lot of homes. Many in Chemainus will feel the loss of the forest surrounding Hermit’s park as the Artisan developments build out.
A community increases in value in my opinion when it has lots of green space, and not just parks but natural green space. The disturbed area of this forest could be brought back over time and remain a home for the 200 plus species that thrive in that biogeoclimatic zone. We have the opportunity to create a lush CDF forest with thriving Garry Oak meadows within walking distance of downtown Chemainus. So, after hours and hours of thinking about true balance from human disturbance in relation to the endangered, precious and rare Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem -- hours of thinking about the future needs of Chemainus and the financial situation of this municipality, weighing it all out with an open mind my heart still tells me to support option 1. (saving 100%)
As Harvard Business School economist John C. Sawhill has said, “In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.”
The proposal to build an RCMP building on a corner of Somenos Marsh is something I would have said a definite NO to from the get go before sitting in a Council seat. As a Council person I am required
to keep an open mind on all matters, gathering information from many sources along the way that will ultimately help me make a good decision.
At this point, NC doesn't know if this site is even a possibility as the land is in the ALR -- hence the application to the ALC to find out. It is by no means a done deal.
As per OCP policy, a successful application would put another, larger piece of land, (on the 'wet' side of the dike) into the ALR, resulting in no net loss to agriculture. That land is currently farmed, but is not formally protected under the ALR.
I support a public process that will hopefully result in a good decision that builds
community instead of dividing us. (no matter where the RCMP is ultimately located)
And I support factual and complete information getting out to the public so we can get informed feedback.
NC staff brought forward a recommendation at its April 17th regular Council meeting
Watch the presentation and subsequent Council debate here
. (It begins at 16:11 minutes and is about 20 minutes long) North Cowichan has also published an information sheet here.
Personally, I have considerable reservations on this site because of my concerns about the impact on a valuable ecological resource. I'm also somewhat concerned that this area is likely to liquify in a large earthquake. There are many questions in my mind.
Ideas about using a very small footprint, building a Platinum Leeds structure and putting the rest of the piece, and the rest of the marsh under a conservation covenant pique my interest. Doing remediation on the marsh, including dealing with invasive species has also been bandied about. I'd like to hear what conservation groups feel about the proposal in light of those kinds of possibilities.
There has been some initial community input at a meeting that around 30 people attended -- most of them not in favor. North Cowichan's Agriculture Committee and Community Planning Committee, both which have community members serving on them, have endorsed the application.
Council voted to take the idea to the next step by sending in the application to ALC. If approved, it would remove that part of the marsh from the ALR while adding the other, larger piece -- presently farmed -- but not zoned into the ALR, thus supporting the OCP's no net loss policy.
Should the ALC approve the application -- NC will probably investigate the feasibility of building on a small corner of the lot. Should the ALC reject the application, NC will have to look at other options. If other viable options were to come to light, they could also be looked at on their own merits.
Proponents point out that one of the attractive aspects of this location is that NC owns the property, which could save $ 1 + million. It's close to the highway. Near the University Village, a concept that envisions a dense mixed use development area -- and in the core, which is a logical good home to the RCMP station.
And so we wait to see what the ALC rules before we can decide next steps.
In the meantime, many people in the community are weighing in and that is as it should be. This is democracy in action folks. Though Council has the ultimate responsibility to make the decision, it is each Councillor's job to weigh all the facts, to listen to all the input from all directions and make the best decision. As I mentioned at the start, we are required to keep an open mind while gathering all that information. I think it's important that citizens have the facts as well and that they get engaged and share their opinions. Opinions formed after they have all the facts. I look at Councillors as public servants, taking their turn to help the community move forward together.
No decision will make everyone happy. There are those who think this is a good idea as well as those who don't. Hopefully, listening to one another, and respectfully communicating with one another, we will come to the best decision.
There has been some inference that NC has already started clearing this land for the RCMP building. That is not correct. The only land that has been cleared is the land in the pathway of the dike. The process for dike construction is to remove all trees where the dike is to go, and then to strip off the topsoil, placing it on either side of the dike alignment so it can be used to finish the dike berms for grass planting. An environmental monitor is ensuring construction of the dike follows Ministry of Environment rules.
The ALC approved the dike construction over ALR land. No additional clearing has been done other than what is required for the dike. A photo has been posted on FB that makes it look like a huge swath of the marsh land aside from the dike was dug up. This is misleading and I have to say, I find it upsetting. The soil in the photo was placed there, to be put back on the edge of the dike once it is constructed. A pre-construction nesting survey was completed by a qualified consultant to ensure there were no nests in the dike alignment. Nesting season is until August and there is an environmental monitor ensuring that construction follows Ministry of Environment rules.
Please inform yourself of all the facts. And if something is confusing to you, never hesitate to ask.
We are all neighbours. Let's work together for the health of us all.
Would you like to know how to create a more sustainable life and reduce your ecological footprint while having a good time with your friends and neighbours? We can help!
North Cowichan Council has adopted a Climate Action and Energy Plan and its Climate Change Advisory Committee is working on a series of public events to share the findings, the plan and to engage public support in meaningful behaviour change.
The first event -- Community4Climate -- will be held between 1:00 and 4:30 p.m on Saturday, June 8, 2013 at Vancouver Island University, 2011 University Way, Duncan, B.C. The afternoon will have an exhibition-like atmosphere with various agencies sharing information and offering interactive activities to help people learn more about their carbon footprint and how they can make it smaller. This free community event will also include a presentation of the plan, live music by Masimba Marimba, family games, prizes and food. To get things started, Council has established an Climate Action and Energy Reserve Fund for municipal projects that will reduce annual energy costs currently estimated at $1.7 million. “It is expected that selected projects will have a payback time of five to seven years,” said Mayor Lefebure, “but the long-term benefits to our residents, our communities and our planet are timeless.”
Close to 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in North Cowichan come from private homes and vehicles. “The Climate Action and Energy Plan (CAEP) provides information on how simple changes can not only save our residents money, but also reduce their carbon footprint,” said North Cowichan Climate Change Advisory Committee Chair, Councillor Kate Marsh. She added, “Public support is critical for us to meet our target to reduce emissions 33% by 2025.”
Come out, bring your family, friends and neighbours and learn ways to decrease energy use and emissions, encourage a local green economy and support a high-quality, sustainable, healthy, safe life in the valley. Spread the word!
Want to help? Contact: email@example.com
Wow -- can it really be over two months since I last blogged. My bad. That would be the life thing. I want to get this out to you even though my head is slightly foggy from the flu virus that has swept the valley. And ask you to pass it on to your contacts too, even if your opinion differs from mine, because its important Council hears from as many folks as possible.
At a special Council meeting on the capitol budget -- February 12 -- North Cowichan passed the following motion:
That Council begin a public consultation process, including an IPSO Reid survey, to determine public support for an additional 1% property tax increase to build up a climate action reserve to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
The property tax increase without this 1% is in line with the 2102 - 2016 Five Year Plan, presented to the public last year -- a 3.8% increase. This would be in addition to that -- and if adopted, would bring the tax increase up to 4.82%.
If Council adds this 1 % it would be used for projects that would reduce, not only emissions, but energy bills. Did you know our yearly energy bill is $1.6 million dollars? This represents about 7% of all the taxes we collect. It includes all our facilities and streetlights as well as the municipal fleet.
A 1% increase would be about $ 13 on the average house (valued at $ 340,000).
CAO Dave Devana estimated the types of projects selected would have a 5 - 7 year pay back period, which is a pretty good return on investment.
You may know that Council (with 1/3 funding from BC Hydro) hired a Vancouver group -- Sustainability Solutions -- to come up with a Climate Action and Energy Plan. (CAEP)
This plan, now in its final draft form, is expected to come forward for consideration at the regular meeting on February 20th. (3pm) Though its not exactly a tome, it is over 130 pages, so I can only give you a brief glimpse. You can find a link to the plan here.
It is the first plan in British Columbia to take an integrated approach to climate change mitigation for the broader community as well as municipal operations.
It also clearly outlines an economic and community development agenda along with a plan to reduce GHG emissions.
The CAEP received input from over 400 people in one form or another. (the consultants say that is amazing)
One goal they were charged with -- to come up to ways to reduce emissions by 33 % by 2020 is an ambitious one, and the committee and consultants realized it would be too hard to meet. So it's been moved to 2025.
Business as usual scenarios predict our emissions would climb to 15% over 2007 levels by 2020, so if we are serious about this, we must
According to the BC Government (CEEI) data, 76% of North Cowichan's emissions come from on-road transportation -- the provincial average is 59%.
So that's one aspect. Then there's the cost. No matter what is causing the climate to change -- the cause debate is irrelevant to this -- we do know it is changing.
Its become well accepted that the less we do now to adapt and mitigate, the more we'll have to do later and the longer we wait the more it will cost.
And, sadly, the longer we wait, the people who have to pay (in more ways than dollars) our today's children and their children. To me, that is unjust.
If you'd like your voice heard on this matter, consider sending a letter to Council at
firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by our February 20th meeting. You can ask to be a delegation by contacting the Municipal Clerk the Friday before the meeting, or come early and sign up to give your 2 minutes input before the business of the meeting starts. Whatever your thoughts, I hope we hear from you.
As far as agendas go this past week's appeared to be short -- but that didn't prevent Wednesday's Council meeting from going for almost six hours!
Still on my learning curve I'm open to expanding my viewpoint -- but from my present vantage there was a decision taken that I could not support and honestly don't understand.
In its efforts to streamline the development approval process, North Cowichan -- traditionally understaffed in relation to comparable communities -- recently hired a new planner. The Deputy Director position, too long vacant, was also filled.
As well as successfully clearing backlog, this more sustainable staffing level allows more time for best practices to be reviewed. As a result, the Planning Department recommended that fees be brought closer into line with comparable communities.
On average, only 17% of the cost of planning services are paid by developers in North Cowichan, while similar communities have an average cost recovery rate of 63%. That means our taxpayers subsidize the lion's share of development planning costs, picking up more than twice as big a share of the tab as taxpayers in comparable communities do.
And the report only encompassed the Planning Department, which means the full processing costs are underestimated. The time and money spent on development applications by other municipal departments, through the Planning referral process, were not counted.
The report outlined 4 options for Council consideration:
Option 1 -- Continue the current high subsidy from taxpayers.
Option 2 -- Increase cost recovery rates from 17% to the 22-40% range.
Option 3 -- Increase cost recovery to the general average of 63%.
Option 4 -- Increase cost recovery to 100%.
Staff recommended Option 2, suggesting it be reviewed in two years' time. I supported this. It seemed the best course of action, and more than fair to the development community, going to the average rate in one fell swoop would not be -- but to my surprise, Council voted to postpone this recommendation for a year.
The arguments against raising fees were for the most part some version of: "Times are tough," and "Keeping these fees artificially low will attract investment."
I know that times are tough -- they're tough for many of us, including property tax payers. Should our taxpayers directly subsidize developers and purchasers of their products? And if so -- by how much? Development fees are a cost of doing business which are likely passed along to the homebuyer -- and, I might point out, they are also a tax write-off for developers.
North Cowichan already has low planning fees and low development cost charges (relative to comparable municipalities). Yet growth here has long been much slower than in the rest of the island, including those communities who pay much more in property taxes and charge developers much higher fees.
Our taxpayer-subsidized rates haven't appeared to create more business.
Don't get me wrong, I realize that the mark of a civil society is collectively paying for services for the good of the body politic. I realize that sometimes that means subsidizing private business to a degree. But this seems excessive to me, and unfair to the taxpayer.
As the planning report said, "Comparable municipalities have an average cost recovery rate of 63%. For North Cowichan to reach 63%, an additional average of approximately $277,000 must be generated from application fees, [for] a total annual average of about $372,500."
(Note that $277,000 represents approximately 1.3% of our municipality's annual property tax revenue.)
Raising the rates to the modest level recommended by staff in Option 2 would not generate that preferred number ($372,500) But improving our cost recovery to somewhere between 20% and 45%, as suggested, would noticably reduce the demand on taxpayers, while keeping a lower than average charge for development applications.
Instead, a chance to reduce the burden on taxpayers was missed.
Like Ben Franklin said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes." North Cowichan Council has begun the annual process that will culminate in the setting of next year's property taxes.
Though property taxes were the hot topic at Council last year and chambers was often full to the brim with residents -- surprisingly less than a half dozen people came out Tuesday night to hear the 2013 - 2017 Capital Budget Review. This was the first of 11 scheduled meetings
that will culminate in the adoption of next year's Tax Rate Bylaw on May 1, 2013.
If you have been following North Cowichan's direction the last few years there are no surprises. (unlike last year, when Council faced the Catalyst Pulp Mill in Creditor Protection -- its future viability uncertain) The proposed tax increase presented to Council for 2013 is about 22% lower than projected in the 2012 - 2016 plan that Council endorsed earlier this year -- if passed the proposed budget would see an uplift in North Cowichan residential property taxes of 3.69%.
Whatever the final outcome, some of that money is to be set aside for future capital projects. On the advice of then newly hired CAO Dave Devana (a chartered accountant), Council of the day instituted a progressive policy target that would put aside 15% of property tax revenue for capital projects. What that means is that out of every $ 100 NC collects in property tax, $15 dollars would be saved for future capital projects. Things like road replacement, facility upgrades, sea walks, skateparks, town revitalization etc.
The current Council endorsed that target. Last year we were at 12.7%.
In recognition of the current economic climate and the 2012 tax shift away from heavy industry to homeowners the amount was slightly decreased this year to 12.16% of property tax revenues. However, 15% is still the targeted goal for the future and when realized would put us on very good financial footing going forward.
North Cowichan Council will be debating the proposed net tax increase of 3.69% -- which works out to $ 48 a year or $ 4 a month, per average assessed home of
$ 340,000 -- over the coming months.
At the risk of complicating things even more, the proposed $ 48 increase on the average home is on the North Cowichan portion of your tax bill. (excluding parcel taxes for sewer and water)
North Cowichan also collects taxes on behalf of the CVRD and School District 79. We can't know for sure what their tax requisition requirements will ultimately be, but North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana has suggested he expects those increases could bring the total tax lift to North Cowichan residents living in an average assessed home to around $ 100 a year or $ 8.50 a month. (this includes North Cowichan's $ 48)
North Cowichan's rate increases could be significantly lower if we were growing faster. In spite of lower than average property taxes for comparable homes and services, our growth rate at about 1.25% is low compared to many communities on Vancouver Island.
We believe this is in part because we are somewhat behind on the kind of community development projects that other communities have invested in. Driving through Ladysmith or Qualicum Beach, one can readily see the difference. Revitalization projects such as street beautification, sea walks and walkable town centers have made these communities more attractive to residents, businesses and tourists.
North Cowichan residents have said they want us to invest in community development. This means revitalization projects as well as amenities that attract people, like sea walks, skate parks and the proposed Sherman Road all weather field. The funding for most of these projects comes from a mixture of grants, reserves, fuel tax, development cost charges and contributions from other governments and community groups. Only about 19% of the costs over the next five years would be paid out of any given years property tax revenues.
For instance, a new regional visitors centre is being built at the BC Forest Museum. The total price tag is $ 2,000,000. North Cowichan is contributing $ 325,000 from money we have set aside over time. The CVRD is contributing $ 293,000 and the remaining $1,232,000 comes from grants and the Duncan Chamber of Commerce, who will ultimately run the facility. No new
property taxes are involved.
It can be challenging to be sure of what the community wants. We often hear from the folks who are against any kind of tax increase. Yet people usually want the services they have come to rely on, and opposition is swift when those services are cut. Many people who attended last year's open house on the 2012 - 2016 five year plan expressed the desire for investment in revitalizing our town centers to make us more attractive to outside investment.
Check out the meeting schedule
and come out or write to give your input.
At its regular Committee of the Whole meeting of October 9th, North Cowichan Council recommended that a Communication Committee be struck.
The municipality has been working at improving communication with constituents for several years now and several sitting Councillors, myself included, made it a platform plank in the last election.
Lots has been happening, but it's felt that we could do better.
The siting of the Chemainus Library was a case in point. The Chemainus Advisory Committee and Council both thought they had taken the pulse of the community and there was support for the parking lot site. An 800 plus signature petition indicated pretty staunch opposition to that site. Did they have all the facts? Maybe -- maybe not -- but going ahead with a project against the will of so many people would not have been a wise decision when an alternate site was already identified in the Chemainus Town Centre Revitalization Plan. Lessons can be learned and hopefully, going forward, consultation and communication will be improved on the next big project.
As another way to improve communication, the aforementioned COW meeting was the first to be live streamed on North Cowichan's website. Each and every Council meeting will now be live streamed. Just log onto the website during regular Council meetings at 3:00 pm on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays and you will see and hear the whole thing. In the near future, all Council meeting video will be archived and you will be able to zone in on the agenda item you are most interested in, rather than having to sit through the whole meeting. And there may even be a way for you to give your input during the meeting via the internet down the road. These are the kinds of things a Communication Committee could consider.
I've already blogged on Council Matters, the twice monthly communication you can sign up
for to receive information on what Council is debating. It is published on the 1st and 3rd Thursday. And North Cowichan has Facebook
feeds and you can also sign up for traffic alerts.
Shortly after being elected, the current Council separated out regular Council meetings and Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings -- holding regular Council on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays -- starting at 3 pm (rather than the NC traditional 1:30 pm start time) and holding COW meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
After much debate at last week's COW meeting, a motion to return to 1:30 Council meetings failed, but a motion to drop the regular 2nd and 4th Tuesday COW meetings in favor of rolling COW back into regular Council meetings passed.
Some Councillors felt it was not necessary to have separate COW meetings. They felt that since the public wasn't showing up in the evening in any great number and we didn't always have enough items to justify two COW meetings a month it would serve us better to include COW in regular Council meetings once again. I would have liked us to keep one COW meeting a month in the evening -- I like the idea of having dedicated, less formal time to brainstorm and plan -- but the majority felt that could happen during regular Council meetings.
This decision shouldn't effect communication with the community. CAO Dave Devana made a good point -- some of the most effective communication a council can have is to go out into the community to seek input and share plans.
Look for several special meetings coming up. There will be meetings in Chemainus to plan the Festival Square on the Waterwheel parking lot and meetings, probably at Municipal Hall, to get input on next year's budget. And the Climate Change Advisory Committee will be hosting a meeting with the consultants that have created the draft Climate Action and Energy Plan, probably this November.
COW also recommended that Council reinstate the Economic Development Committee. Economic Development issues and ideas were meant to come through COW this past year, but so far, nothing has been brought forward. Hopefully, a committee that includes experienced and interested citizens will bring forward ideas that will help us attract and support businesses in North Cowichan that will provide livable wage jobs.
When I think about all the experienced experts that have retired here in the last several years I feel hopeful that working with them we can attract some progressive, sustainable and green industries who are looking for just the kind of community of communities we have to offer.
Have an idea for improving communication? Council values your input. Send us an email at: email@example.com