The City of Duncan will contribute $22,000 towards the funding for the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre in 2021, but city council wants to see another funding formula in place for the centre in future years.
At the council meeting on Nov. 2, council directed staff to send a letter to the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, which operates the centre on Drinkwater Road, requesting that the chamber propose a fair and consistent formula within six months for the three local governments in the Valley — including Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the Municipality of North Cowichan — for funding the centre in future years.
Council also wants Cowichan Tribes to be asked if they would want to contribute to the funding of the centre as well.
“We need to resolve this once and for all,” said Coun. Tom Duncan.
“We want to pay our fair share, but we don’t want to be overburdened either. Maybe we should look at funding the centre per capita [of Duncan’s population] next year.”
The city has been in discussions with the chamber of commerce about the issue of funding for the visitor centre since 2017, with the discussions revolving mainly around the significant difference in size of North Cowichan and the city and what Duncan sees as the need for a more equitable funding formula.
The visitor centre had been relying on $60,000 in funding annually from the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, with $30,000 from each, for many years to help the centre deliver year-round visitor services to the region.
The chamber itself contributes between $25,000 to $30,000 each year to the centre, depending on the contributions it gets from the other funding partners.
But the City of Duncan decreased the amount it funds the centre to $26,000 in 2019, and dropped its contribution to $22,000 in 2020.
Considering the fact that the population of Duncan is approximately 5,000 people, while North Cowichan has almost 30,000, some Duncan council members feel the city is being treated unfairly in the funding for the centre.
In 2020, the chamber received $34,000 for the centre from North Cowichan, and $2,000 from the Cowichan Valley Regional District by way of the electoral area directors’ individual grant-in-aid budgets.
Contributions from the CVRD are limited to $1,000 per electoral area, and to exceed that amount would mean the issue would have to go to referendum.
In a letter to the city, chamber president Julie Scurr said the chamber supports creating a clear model for funding for the centre, as the current approach leaves the chamber at risk each year, never knowing what the funding allocations will be from each jurisdiction.
But Scurr said the difficulty comes from developing the base for that formula, given the different perspectives of the three jurisdictions and the chamber being caught in the middle.
Regardless, she said the chamber is supportive of the suggestion from the city that it base funding from the city on the number of business licences each jurisdiction has.
“We are open to revisiting funding models, such as business licenses or fee-for-service or percentage of chamber members within each jurisdiction,” she said.
“We appreciate having you [the city] as a funding partner in this service, ensuring that the city’s economy benefits from our visitors. The visitor centre refers approximately 50 per cent of our visitors to downtown businesses and attractions, such as the farmers market, totem tours, museum, restaurants and more.”