North Cowichan’s council gave the first three readings to its five-year financial plan, which could see a tax increase of 4.22 per cent in 2022, at its meeting on Feb. 2.
But the increased spending in the financial plan of approximately $9 million in those five years in the municipality had some councillors shaking their heads.
The five year plans is calling for a 9.9 per cent tax increase in 2023, 4.7 per cent in 2024, 2.4 per cent in 2025, and 1.9 per cent in 2026.
Coun. Kate Marsh said it’s going to be very challenging for people trying to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as retirees and young people, to deal with the increased taxes that the extra costs will bring.
Coun. Tek Manhas said he has difficulties with the financial plan, especially given that North Cowichan’s forest reserve funds are being depleted without any substantive new revenue to replace it.
Council has cancelled logging in its 5,000-hectare forest reserve while the review on its future continues.
“I believe this council wants to restrict growth [in North Cowichan] through the official community plan, so I don’t see a positive future for our taxpayers with the way we’re moving forward with the OCP review,” Manhas said.
“I always said we should stay in our own lane rather than taking on the responsibilities of the provincial and federal governments and stick to the basics like municipalities should.”
Marsh said council did what it had to do in regards to finances, but it doesn’t feel right to her to hand over issues that this council should have taken responsibility for to a new council next year.
“It feels like this is because it’s an election year, and I have a bad taste in my mouth about that,” she said.
“I will support this and I’m not happy about it, but I will acknowledge the reality of where we are and the commitments we have made.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said she thinks council did a diligent job of being careful about the tax increase.
“I don’t think anyone here was considering the fact that this is an election year,” she said.
“Everyone tried to find a balance with what we are spending and not spending on while the municipality is coming out of a pandemic and facing all the other crises that we are.”
Mayor Al Siebring said North Cowichan’s expenditures are up partly as a result of some of the decisions made by council during its term that he didn’t agree with.
“We’re seeing the consequences of those choices now in terms of the collection of taxes that will see our expenses rise from about $35 million now to $44 million by 2026,” he said.
“Some of it is [costs related to the new $48-million RCMP detachment], but others are choices that I, frankly, think are misguided priorities. We can only do so much and we’re overreaching so I can’t support this.”
After Siebring’s remarks, Marsh said he convinced her that many of the decisions made by council that are increasing costs were the correct choices.
“If we didn’t make some of those decisions, what will be the increased costs related to heat domes, atmospheric rivers and that stuff?” she asked.
“You reminded me why we’re doing the things we’re doing.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski said she feels bad for taxpayers, but council is facing increased costs and pressure from the public on what it needs to move forward with.
“At our first meeting as a council, we talked about the wants and needs in the community and what we need to move forward with,” she said.
“But we have to look at what senior levels of government are downloading into us because that shows up each and every day in our decision making.”
The first three readings of the financial plan passed, with Siebring and Manhas opposed.
The final tax rates for 2022 will not be considered by council until April, after the release of the Revised Assessment Roll at the end of March.