Environmental issues win the day recent budget discussions in North Cowichan

Councl votes 4-3 to contribute to CAEP and Quamichan Lake reserve funds in 2023

North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas said it’s important for the municipality to keep contributing to its CAEP and Quamichan Lake reserves funds. (Citizen file photo)

North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas said it’s important for the municipality to keep contributing to its CAEP and Quamichan Lake reserves funds. (Citizen file photo)

Local environmental concerns narrowly won out over financial considerations during a recent discussion by North Cowichan’s new council about next year’s budget.

Despite expectations that the municipality is looking at a much higher tax increase in 2023 than in previous years, council decided in a 4-3 vote at a committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 13 against withholding a contribution to the municipality’s Climate Action and Energy Plan in 2023, as well as reserve funds for mitigation work at Quamichan Lake next year to improve its water quality, to save money.

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North Cowichan’s CAEP aims to reduce the municipality’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 through various initiatives and strategies, including the municipality’s recent decision to invest $204,375 for energy efficiencies at the new Crofton Fire Hall from CAEP reserve funds.

North Cowichan has been dedicating 0.5 per cent of its budget every year since 2013 towards CAEP reserves funds, and staff told council that not paying into the fund in 2023 would save the municipality $183,900.

The CAEP reserve fund currently has approximately $500,000.

The health of Quamichan Lake has been a focus for North Cowichan since concerns were raised during a toxic blue-green algae bloom in the summer of 2016, which killed a number of dogs after they ingested the water, and the municipality set up a reserve fund to help deal with the issue. Since then the lake has become Rowing Canada’s training centre.

Staff suggested that not contributing to that fund in 2023 would save North Cowichan a further $100,000.

The Quamichan Lake reserve fund is currently at $527,000.

At the committee of the whole meeting, Coun. Tek Manhas said that in a tough tax year like 2023, where staff are tentatively predicting a 5.6 per cent tax increase, which is a big jump from the 2.89 per cent increase in 2022, not adding to the two reserve funds would be good for taxpayers.

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He said the municipality still doesn’t know what to do with the more than $500,000 in Quamichan Lake’s reserve fund, and a project of the magnitude needed to deal with the lake’s water woes would require a grant from senior levels of government.

“I think we can forego investing $100,000 into the lake fund in 2023 given the tax situation,” Manhas said.

But Coun. Christopher Justice said the point of having reserve funds is to put money away, not because it’s currently needed, but to ensure the money will be there when it is needed.

“Even though it’s tempting [to not fund the reserves] in a challenging tax year, it feels very short-sighted to not maintain our contribution to these funds,” he said.

Coun. Mike Caljouw said the amount of money that is earmarked for both funds in 2023 is not a lot, and he thinks the municipality can skip a year considering there are significant reserves already there.

“I think it’s important to the taxpayers that we’re willing to work for them in situations like this,” he said. “I think in the future, we’ll come back to these reserve funds for sure.”

Coun. Chris Istace said be believes it’s important to keep contributing to the reserve funds.

“I think it’s like cutting off your right hand to save your left one [if we don’t contribute to the funds in 2023],” he said.

“It doesn’t make sense and we can’t cut corners right now. I know costs are higher but, down the road, costs will be even more significant.”

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But Coun. Bruce Findlay said that the municipality’s taxpayers have seen big increases in inflation and interest rates recently, and need a tax break.

“I think a lot of people are going to have very tight belts to ensure that they can pay their bills, and the thought of a five to six per cent tax increase is, to me, anathema and we have to be as diligent as possible,” he said.

Mayor Rob Douglas said he thinks it’s important to maintain the contributions to the CAEP funds because it’s playing a big part in North Cowichan’s adaptation to climate change.

“We’re seeing the effects of it, whether its flooding in the Chemainus River or heat waves we’ve been dealing with in recent years, and I know that staff are planning a significant amount of work around this,” he said.

“Having our funding for this in place also puts us in a better position to leverage money from senior levels of government.”

Douglas said that while the Quamichan Lake reserve currently has more than $500,000 in it, having money set aside to find any long-term solutions to the lake’s current challenges will also put the municipality in a better position to leverage money from senior governments.

The 4-3 vote against not contributing to the reserve funds in 2023 saw Findlay, Manhas and Caljouw opposed.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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