Lake Cowichan tax hike looms likely

Capital ideas: Town square, South Shore Road add up to a projected three per cent increase

Lake Cowichan residents should get ready for a tax hike this year.

The numbers have been crunched and, according to staff, ongoing capital projects — such as South Shore Road improvements and the construction of the new Renfrew Town Square — ensure a projected budget deficit is inevitable. Because of that, a 3% tax increase is likely.

“We’re forecasting a deficit, it’s a given,” said Chief Administrator Joseph Fernandez. “We know what our costs will be based on the functional departments, so we’re either looking at a 3% tax increase or a reduction in services.”

Councillor Tim McGonigle said the tax increase was pretty much unavoidable this time around.

“No one likes to see a tax increase, especially when we are taxpayers as well,” said McGonigle. “At our budget discussions, we’ll decide if 3% is enough. It’s important we finish the projects we started but we may look at a reduction in services.

“We have to look at it frugally, but it’s imperative to continue the finalization of South Shore Road and the town square. There was nothing in the throne speech that may help us.”

Fernandez said there may still be a way to cut costs.

“There’s one item in the water budget that is costly and could be hard-pressed to meet the timeline,” he said. “Our capital budgets are set for the next four years and this will make up part of the five-year financial plan.”

That water budget item is a water treatment service that Vancouver Island Health Authority has instructed the town to implement.

However, due to fiscal constraints and fast-approaching deadlines, this project may get put on hold.

“VIHA has asked us to implement a secondary water treatment service for drinking water,” said McGonigle. “It’s a new system at a very high cost and I don’t think our water budget can handle that. We might have to wait until 2015.”

Formal budget discussions at the council table will commence very soon.

“When we have our first budget meeting, we’ll lay everything out on the table and go from there,” said Mayor Ross Forrest.

Fernandez said the town ran a few surplus budgets in recent years and will dip into its savings to balance the budget this year.