Regional District budget up for discussion

Cowichan Valley Regional District staff and elected officials are holding open houses throughout the Valley

Cowichan Valley Regional District staff and elected officials are holding open houses throughout the Valley over the coming weeks to discuss its draft 2017 budget, and they will be in Lake Cowichan on Oct. 27.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. at the Cowichan Lake Curling Lounge, and is an opportunity for members of the public to receive an overview of the proposed budget and participate in a discussion about its impacts on specific areas throughout the district.

Schedule A of the draft general budget — an analysis of changes in tax requisition — lists the CVRD’s 2017 general property taxes requisition as $33,481,947 (an increase of about 5 per cent compared to 2016).

Significant changes to operation and maintenance expenses noted in the preliminary budget for communities’ water systems include a 69 per cent ($11,128) increase for the Mesachie Lake water system; 46 per cent ($15,557) for Honeymoon Bay’s water system; and 29 per cent ($12,637) for Youbou’s water system.

The water user fees for Honeymoon Bay and Youbou remain unchanged since last year, while the user fee for Mesachie Lake more than doubled from $10.83 in the amended 2016 budget to $24.92 in the preliminary 2017 budget.

The preliminary 2017 community parks budget for Area F is set at $145,289, which includes an increase of 23 per cent ($9,972) in parks and trails operating expenses. This draft budget also projects no operating revenue surplus for Area F community parks.

Area I’s preliminary community parks budget includes a $290,000 capital expense for land improvements. These funds will go towards the revitalization of Arbutus Park in Youbou and will include replacement of the old lifeguard/washroom building with a new public washroom building with change areas, upgrades to swimming floats, removing some of the older playground apparatus and installing a “naturescape themed play area,” beachfront upgrades and improving public accessibility to the park. Funding for this project in the draft budget is made up of $145,000 from the Community Works Funds Gas Tax and $145,000 from the Electoral Area I Community Parks Capital Reserve Funds.

There are no changes to the Grants In Aid for Area F, which will total just over $24,000 for 2017. In Area I, the preliminary Grants In Aid budget is $39,564 (an increase of $10,999 over 2016).

The Cowichan Lake Recreation draft budget is approximately $3 million, with no significant increases or decreases in revenue from requisition and user fees, and no significant changes to operating expenses either. Capital expenses listed in the draft document include $220,000 for a chiller and $25,000 for digital signage.

A new function has been added to the budget this year called Cowichan Flood Management, which is meant to “construct, upgrade and maintain dikes and associated structures within the Cowichan watershed including: undertaking periodic log and gravel management, flood modelling, maintaining a flood monitoring and early warning system, develop and implement flood management plans and act as the diking authority for dikes and related works constructed by the CVRD.” The total budget is $150,000.

In an email to the Gazette, Area F director Ian Morrison said it’s too soon for him to properly comment on the budget as it’s still in a preliminary stage and subject to change.

He said the Cowichan Lake Recreation budget “looks higher [than] it will ultimately end up,” giving an inflated percentage tax increase.

“I’m certain that budget will be trimmed at the meeting following the public budget event,” Morrison said. “The preliminary flood management budget hasn’t clearly defined projects in area F, yet was designed to help with log jams and aggregate removal, which it could do in Area F in 2017.”

Area I director Klaus Kuhn also said the draft budget is still at an early stage, which makes it difficult to comment definitively. Like Morrison, he said he anticipates it will undergo changes following the public consultation process.

“This is the first stage and I don’t take the first stage too seriously because there will be negotiations coming from now on, and I’ll be quite tough on that and I’ll try to keep things in line,” Kuhn said.

He said he does not agree with any increase in requisitions by the CVRD.

“I think the CVRD should learn to stay within its balanced budget without having to constantly go back to increases,” he said, adding that his reasoning is simple. “If you have a population growth that’s below one per cent, how do you justify increases that go into eight and 10 per cent on some items? I just can’t see it.”

A regular board meeting for the budget’s approval is scheduled for Dec. 14.