To merge or not to merge? Citizen’s Assembly recommends marriage

But cost savings would be “negligible”

The citizens of Duncan and North Cowichan will be asked to vote in a referendum on June 23 on whether they want their two communities amalgamated into one.

An impartial information campaign led by an external consultant will soon begin to provide information to the public in the weeks leading up to the referendum.

Residents are expected to be able to seek answers to their questions through a number of channels, including a dedicated website, a call-in line and several open houses, then determine for themselves whether the two municipalities should amalgamate.

The issues are many, and the municipalities have released some information through a number of reports prepared over the months as staff and local politicians mulled over whether the question should be asked in the first place.

Can citizens and property owners expect any cost savings at the municipal level if amalgamation gets the green light, will there be any significant changes to taxes, will there be job losses and even what the name of the new, single municipality would be called are just a few of the things the public needs to know.

The amalgamation of North Cowichan and Duncan had been recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly, a group of 36 citizens from both municipalities that were randomly chosen to participate.

After months of research, the assembly’s final report was presented at a special meeting of Duncan and North Cowichan elected officials on May 23, 2017.

The assembly cited a number of benefits to amalgamation, but said the cost-savings to taxpayers from such a move would be “negligible.”

Some residents may be surprised by this conclusion, but according to the findings of the accompanying technical report, the negligible financial impact of amalgamation is itself a consequence of the efficiency with which both municipalities currently provide services, and the extent of co-operation that already exists between them.

Without a strong fiscal rationale, the Assembly nevertheless believes that Cowichan Valley residents would benefit from merging the two local governments.

Members argue Duncan and North Cowichan will be stronger together.

They state that harmonized bylaws will help businesses; a single official community plan will lead to more rational and coordinated land use policies; and over time, a shared vision for the Cowichan Valley will produce a consistent and beneficial approach to growth.

As for taxation, the Assembly concluded that Duncan and North Cowichan currently charge comparable residential property tax rates, which could be harmonized with only a modest impact on annual bills.

Assembly members also found a history of co-operation already exists between the two communities, making amalgamation easier.

The range of shared services include water and sewage to some homes and recreation for many residents throughout the regional district.

As well, the adjacent Duncan and North Cowichan fire halls currently provide complementary services, so combining the structures would produce no meaningful savings.

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