North Cowichan council’s March 18 meeting was unprecedented amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with just once councillor attending in person, and the others participating via teleconference.
Council discussed two items pertaining to the 2020-2024 Financial Plan, the first being an increase in garbage rates for 2020. Staff was directed to increase the annual residential waste collection rate from $91 to $102 per household.
“Curbside collection fees are user-based, not tax-based, and this increase relates to the increased costs associated with the provision of this service, which is why we agreed to move forward with this decision,” explained Mayor Al Siebring.
The second item pertained to water and sewer rates, and council agreed to the recommended increases as outlined in a staff report from a March 4 Committee of the Whole meeting. Increases are tied to fixed costs, which will not be impacted by the COVID-19 situation.
Council deferred discussion on actual property tax rates until staff can prepare a report on the revenue and expenditure implications of the current slow-down. Provincial legislation mandates a deadline of May 15 for municipalities to finalize tax rates, but North Cowichan has asked for an extension to consider these issues.
“We have also asked for an extension of the property tax payment deadline beyond the current July 2 date, in recognition of the impacts the current crisis may have on people’s ability to pay by early July,” added Siebring.
Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson has committed to making consideration of the matter a top priority.
Future meetings of council, committees and other advisory bodies are suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only emergency virtual meetings, if needed, will be held until further notice.
A 90-day postponement of public engagement processes currently underway, or scheduled to be undertaken, is now in effect. Council strongly agreed that precautionary measures are necessary at this time for the health and safety of the community and will re-evaluate resuming engagement before the end of the 90-day period if it can proceed.