The City of Duncan will contribute $22,000 towards the funding for the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre in 2022, the same amount it granted to the centre for 2021.
But Coun. Tom Duncan said at a council meeting in November that the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, which operates the visitor centre, should be put on notice that this amount of funding would likely not be available in the future as the city has other financial considerations that demand attention.
Duncan pointed out that $22,000 in the city’s annual budget accounts for approximately 0.5 per cent of taxes, and the city will likely face a tax increase of about three per cent next year to cover police costs if Duncan’s population exceeds 5,000 people, as is expected.
According to the last census in 2016, the population of the city was 4,944, so Duncan was considered to be below the threshold of 5,000 set by the provincial government for becoming directly responsible for paying for its policing services.
But it’s expected that the results of the 2021 census will see the city’s population tip over 5,000, and that would make Duncan responsible for a significant increase in policing costs.
“I think it’s time to put the chamber on notice that we can’t be providing that amount of funding anymore,” Duncan said.
“[The visitor centre] is a regional service and it’s up to the Cowichan Valley Regional District to come up with the money to support it. As I’ve been saying for several years now, we’re paying more than our fair share when comparing populations. I think we should go to a per-capita funding formula 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.
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.
Considering Duncan’s relatively small population compared to North Cowichan, which has a population of almost 30,000, some Duncan council members feel the city is being treated unfairly in the funding for the centre.
Coun. Carol Newington said she did the math and determined that Duncan is paying $4.67 per resident a year towards the visitor centre, while residents in North Cowichan are paying just $1.48 per person.
Chamber president Julie Scurr said the visitor centre brings great value to the citizens of Duncan and its businesses.
She pointed out that the centre refers approximately 50 per cent of its visitors to businesses and attractions in the city, including the farmers market, totem tours, museum, restaurants and shops.
“But this is a recurring theme with the city and we know the writing is probably on the wall for its funding for the centre,” Scurr said.
“We’re trying to be proactive and working to find alternative sources of funding for the centre, including the Holiday 2021 Online Silent Auction currently taking place. It’s also possible we could get some of the revenue from the hotel tax that goes to Tourism Cowichan, but we’ve had no discussions with them about it at this point.”