Satff in North Cowichan are recommending a 4.4 per cent tax hike in 2020, but Mayor Al Siebring (pictured) said that council may want to reduce the tax burden on citizens during the COVID-19 crisis. (File photo)

North Cowichan was considering a 4.4 per cent tax increase in 2020

But Mayor Al Siebring suggests COVID-19 crisis could see tax proposal lowered

The Municipality of North Cowichan was considering a 4.4 per cent tax increase in 2020 for most of its tax classes.

A staff report written by Mark Frame, North Cowichan’s finance director, before the COVID-19 crisis took full hold in the Cowichan Valley, recommended that council approve a tax increase of 4.4 per cent for residential, utility, major industry and business classes, and 1.7 per cent increase for light industry.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN RESIDENTS COULD FACE 133% TAX HIKE IN ‘WORST CASE’ LAWSUIT OUTCOME: REPORT

But Mayor Al Siebring said that, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, there may be substantial amendments made to the proposed budget for 2020 when it comes before council.

He said that, given the economic implications to North Cowichan’s taxpayers of the ongoing and growing coronavirus crisis, council may consider scaling back the proposed tax increase.

“We could, for example, leave the discussions and community consultations on updating the official community plan until next year because we just don’t know how long this situation will last,” Siebring said.

“That would save us $300,000 right there in the budget if council made that decision. It’s all a rather fluid situation right now.”

RELATED STORY: CVRD, NORTH COWICHAN, LAKE COWICHAN CLOSE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES DUE TO COVID-19

In his report, Frame said property assessments in 2020 in North Cowichan have increased by 8.4 per cent from last year, with an average single-family dwelling in North Cowichan having increased in value by 6.52 per cent, from $445,000 in 2019 to $474,000 today.

“If council chooses to increase taxes by 4.4 per cent, with a 1.7 per cent increase for light industry, it would result in a tax increase of $73 on an average single family home (in 2020),” he said.

“The financial plan contains a sustainable tax increase while maintaining existing levels of service and aligning with council’s strategic plan, while providing sufficient capital spending for infrastructure renewal. The total general municipal tax requisition is $31,736,000.”

As for why the recommended tax break for light industry in the proposed budget, Frame said the municipality has been reducing taxes on light industry in recent years to get the rates closer to the business class tax rate and to encourage the light-industry sector “which provides well paid jobs”.

Tax increases in the municipality have been below three per cent for the past six years, with North Cowichan setting a 2.95 per cent tax increase in 2019.

One of the reasons for the higher tax rate proposed for 2020 is that council recently approved three new positions that have been added to the budget.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN TO CREATE THREE NEW POSITIONS IN 2020

The new positions include a procurement coordinator, an assistant fire chief and a new office manager for the RCMP, with the total cost per year at $279,500.

The possibility of adding a fourth position, a senior social and housing planner which would cost another $120,000 per year, will also be discussed during budget deliberations.

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