The Town of Lake Cowichan held its bi-annual public meeting on Nov. 26 at Centennial Hall. Mayor Ross Forrest presided over the meeting with the help of Councillors Bob Day and Franklin Hornbrook. Councillors Jane Ingram and Tim McGonigle were excused for family and work commitments respectively.
Also on hand in the audience was the town’s Director of Finance, Ronnie Gill, and Chief Administrative Officer Joe Fernandez.
It was perhaps one of the better turnouts at the town’s public meetings that came into effect three years ago when the mayor and council were elected, with close to 40 residents in attendance.
With no agenda set by council for the meeting, the floor was opened to residents to speak.
The following are some of the issues brought to the table by the residents of Lake Cowichan.
The meeting opened with a question put to the mayor and council regarding the Town of Lake Cowichan charging higher water rates for residents outside the town’s boundary versus residents within the town’s boundary.
Dennis Pilon was the first to voice his disapproval at the discrimination he feels he and other outside users are being subjected to according for not living within the town’s boundary yet using the town’s water.
The mayor and council explained to Pilon that it is due to the fact that through their taxes, Lake Cowichan residents subsidize their own water costs, a subsidy which outside users do not pay.
Pilon’s question brought on several more comments and questions from other residents who feel that the increase of 40 per cent in the proposed water rates for 2013 is a huge jump over the four per cent increases in the past couple of years.
These increases were outlined in a previous article in the Gazette in Sept. 2012.
Community Consultation Meeting
The upcoming Dec. 8 public Community Consultation session organized by School District #79, was another hot topic of the meeting, and several residents made a point of speaking to the subject. It was obvious that their concern over the future of the schools in the Lake Cowichan district is a driving force in the community.
Ross assured the residents that they are as concerned about the future of the communities schools, as well.
On a more positive note, resident Tara Bushby addressed the town’s values and positive attributes.
“I’m here today to talk about some of the more positive things in this town, and of ways we could potentially get more attention,” Bushby said. “Not just in the summertime, but all year. And I think the way to achieve that is by branding the community with certain things, using social media, Facebook and the website, to attract attention. When we have more activities, it will bring more people into town, and that will help with the economy.”
Bushby also expressed her concern that there is nothing for the youth in Lake Cowichan, and suggested that if the town wants to keep its youth here and happy, there needs to be evening activities and places where the youth can go and have fun.
Lake Cowichan resident David Ridley had two questions to raise at the meeting, the first concerning the town’s communication methods, the second to do with the doctor shortage.
“I had great difficulties in finding out that this meeting existed,” Ridley said. “I couldn’t find it on the website, and it was not in the Gazette.”
Ridley also spoke about the town not always replying to letters they receive from residents. He says he feels that every letter the town receives from a resident should be acknowledged, even if it is only to tell them they are looking into the matter.
“I think the whole communication thing needs to be tightened up a little bit,” he concluded on that subject.
Ridley then brought up the issue of the doctor shortage in the town.
Mayor Forrest reassured everybody that they are doing everything they can to try to attract doctors. He said they are working at it, and that they have talked to VIHA about it.
“At our council meeting on Dec. 11, there will be representatives from VIHA and the Physician’s Recruitment Centre to let the public know what they are doing to try to attract doctors to Lake Cowichan,” Forrest said. “So I’m asking everybody, when we have our meeting on the 11th, come to the meeting and show VIHA and the Recruitment centre that we really have a big concern, that the community is concerned and cares.”
New business opportunities
John Harrison, who is a fairly recent addition to Lake Cowichan, says he has been proposing ideas for new businesses in town and has been coming up against obstacles at every step.
One of Harrison’s ideas is to have an open-air craft market for local artisans. First he says he was told it wasn’t allowed on public property, and when he found private property, he still received a red light from the town.
“If there was something every weekend for local homeowners that were into making crafts, like cottage industry-type products,” he suggested, “then we could be hosting a nice little craft market in town, which would improve the economy by bringing people into town.
State of the roads
Several residents complained about the state of the roads around the town, especially the potholes on many of the side streets. They are wondering why the town can find the money to repave the main street that runs through town, but can’t find the money to fix the potholes.
Water treatment project
One of the last items to be discussed during the open meeting was the new water treatment project for the Town of Lake Cowichan.
Council says they are starting to put money away for this project, which will be necessary in the next few years and will have a price tag in the vicinity of $3 million.
One of the ways they are dong this, explained Forrest, is by raising the water rates, as was discussed and debated earlier in the meeting.
“Water tax is a method for us to have some of the $3 million, roughly, that it’s going to cost, put away to start paying for it,” the mayor explained. “So if we start now, it’s less we’ve got to pay in the long run. Because one way or another, we’ve have to pay for it. And that’s how the parcel tax will work.”
Councillor Bob Day, who has been the town and district’s representative on the Board of Trustees for the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) in 2012, has accepted the position for another one-year term.
Day also reported on a meeting he attended recently about the new library, scheduled to be built in Lake Cowichan in 2013. Day confirmed that VIRL awarded tender to Heatherbrae Construction for the project, whose bid of just under the $1 million ceiling was accepted.