North Cowichan’s draft budget for 2020 calls for a 4.03 per cent tax increase.
But if council moves forward with recommendations from staff to fill five new positions in the municipality, the proposed tax increase for the year could be 4.68 per cent.
Council was scheduled to consider the recommendations at a special council meeting on Feb. 11.
One of the positions to be considered at the meeting is a new assistant fire chief to help deal with the growing number of required fire inspections in the municipality, at a cost of $112,000 per year.
Council had denied the request for a new assistant fire chief at a meeting on Jan. 29 after some councillors expressed concerns about the cost of the position, but Coun. Tek Manhas has asked that the decision be reconsidered.
The second recommended position is a new procurement manager, also at a cost of approximately $112,000, who would provide advice and expertise to city staff in the development of tender and proposal call processes.
In a staff report, finance director Mark Frame said the municipality currently has no procurement department.
“Every department is currently handling aspects of their individual procurements trying to the best of their abilities and time constraints to meet the requirements laid out in our policy,” he said.
“Similar-sized municipalities generally have between three and four dedicated procurement positions. Procurement is becoming a larger risk to the district. Continuing with procurement partially funded, the risk of not meeting trade obligations and being sued by unsuccessful vendors will increase.”
The third position that staff is recommending is a senior social and housing planner, at a cost of $120,000 per year.
In his report, Frame said the position is intended to help achieve council’s strategic plan priorities in regards to affordable housing, and provide more input into helping manage the ongoing opioid crisis in the Valley.
The fourth position is a new legislative services coordinator, at a cost of $83,000 per year.
The new coordinator would be responsible for preparing council and committee agendas, including coordinating reports, delegations, staff presentations and related assignments, as well as acting as a meeting coordinator with the general public.
The final recommended position is a new office manager at the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment.
Frame said that upgrading an existing vacant three-day a week position could provide a manager for an additional amount of approximately $47,500.
“The [RCMP’s] administrative support staff is supervised by a single provincial office manager resource,” he said.
“With increasing human resource management demands, financial administration requirements and increasing building issues, the sustainability of one resource effectively managing all these areas is no longer viable. The duties of the current office manager position are unmanageable for a single resource and burnout is a real possibility.”
Frame said other expenses, including contractual wage increases and inflation, are also contributing to the proposed tax increase in North Cowichan for 2020.
He said council’s adoption, along with other local governments and community stakeholders, last year of the Safer Community Plan has also come with costs.
The plan is intended to address crime and public disorder in the Trans Canada Highway corridor that goes through the Valley.
“We’ve hired a new bylaw person and are helping pay for the new safety office [estimated total cost of the year at $150,000],” he said.
“We’re also looking at increased costs in our fire department [$110,000] related to training and paid-on-call services.”
Frame said North Cowichan only paid half the costs of its new senior environmentalist specialist [$112,000 at full time] and chief building inspector [$118,000 at full time] last year as they were hired during the fiscal year, but those positions will be paid in full in 2020.
A lot of additional work and consultations still have to be done over the next few months as the municipality prepares to meet its deadline to have the budget prepared for its first three readings on April 15, so nothing is set in stone at this stage.
The final 2020 budget is scheduled to be adopted as of May 1.