The Municipality of North Cowichan is increasing taxes by 1.4 per cent.
As the 2019 financial information has not been posted yet, I am using information from the 2018 financial statements as an example. General taxation collected in 2018 was $28,743,000. Add a 1.4 per cent increase to this amount would be $402,402.
One very important item to note is the employment health care tax that was introduced by the minority NDP government. The tax is 1.95 per cent of total payroll and benefits. This is in relation to collect back lost revenue from the elimination of B.C. medical premium charges. Total 2018 payroll and benefits for North Cowichan was $18,535,061. Multiplying this amount by 1.4 per cent is $361,434.
In 2018, North Cowichan paid $111,431 in B.C. medical premiums. Now, the new employer health care tax has created $250,003 more in expenses which have to absorbed by the taxpayers.
Another important item is the CUPE contract that is negotiated with the union by your elected council. The last contract saw a wage increase on Jan. 1, 2017 of one per cent, July 1, 2017 of one per cent, Jan. 1, 2018 of two per cent, Jan. 1, 2019 of two per cent, and Jan. 1, 2020 of two per cent.
Present hourly rate of pay for a refuse packer operator is $32.79 per hour. An office receptionist rate of pay is $29.70 per hour. Employee benefits are on top of these hourly rates. If the next CUPE contract is signed for a four-year term and has a two per cent wage increase per year, that will make the refuse packer operator hourly rate at $35.41 per hour at Jan. 1, 2024 and the office receptionist rate of pay at $32.08 per hour, at Jan. 1, 2024.
There is a limit to every job title on how much is to be paid, but it cannot proceed on what is happening every time the council negotiates new contracts.
The solution for the public works department is that this department be contracted out just like former B.C. Premier Bill VanderZalm did with the B.C. highways ministry. Contractors now bid on highway maintenance and taxpayers are saving big time on their tax dollars being spent.
This, of course, will never happen, as every municipal government in the province does not contract out their public works department.
Future CUPE contracts have to be signed with no wage increases. That is, for example, no wage increase for three years.
Councillor Chris Justice has suggested a hiring freeze be made for the rest of 2020. Council has agreed to a pay reduction of 10 per cent to all council members for the next six months. In 2018, total council wages were $210,961. Taking off 10 per cent for six months equals $2,110 per month.
North Cowichan has recently laid off 139 employees. Sixty-eight casual, 29 contract, 28 permanent, and 14 temporary seasonal. Using as an example, the 28 permanent staff. Twenty-eight times average rate of pay at $30 x 176 hours per month equals $147,840 per month and $147,840 times three months equals $443,520.
Savings from discounted council member wages at $12,660, for six months, 28 permanent employees at $147,840 for three months, equaling $443,520, less a reduction in payment of the employer health care tax and the additional wage savings from other laid off employees is more than sufficient to conclude that the Municipality of North Cowichan can go for a zero per cent tax increase.
Just because tax payments are being deferred because of COVID-19 does not mean this is lost money. This money still has to be paid later, and does not constitute a property tax increase.