Westward Independent

Council Watch – May

by Westward Independent
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April:  

– Rails to Trails’ spokesperson David Slade stated that federal and provincial funds were available for active transportation infrastructure, such as converting the railroad track into walking/biking paths, but not for reviving the railway.

– Students from VIU, in partnership with Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Resource and North Cowichan, presented on ‘Natural Asset Accounting’ (NAC). This was the first in a three-year project to value ‘natural assets,’ starting with Richards Creek. They suggested landowners optionally give over 30 to 200 meters of riparian areas for $7.88 per sq km. The mid-section of the study area was priced at $315,450 to maintain. Cllr. Findlay questioned the purpose of assigning a dollar value and its potential burden on taxpayers. The response was to ensure the value is not discounted.

– Cllr. Findlay proposed three motions:

1) A mayoral letter to rehire fired nurses, highlighting that approximately 10,000 healthcare workers left due to provincial Covid-19 vaccine mandates, with 4,000 wishing to return. Cllr. Justice argued against the letter, stating vaccine mandates were a political wedge. Cllr. Manhas criticized the council for not supporting nurses despite backing a local healthcare group. Cllr. Findlay, Manhas, and Caljouw supported the motion.

2) A motion to expedite the approval process for temporary and permanent patio additions for food service establishments, and to send a letter to the provincial government advocating for removing liquor licensing red tape, implementing a trusted owner liquor licensing system, reconsidering minimum wage levels, and freezing WorkSafeBC premiums. The motion to send the letter was only supported by the mayor and Cllr. Findlay. Cllr. Findlay highlighted WorkSafeBC’s $2.5 billion excess funds and the impact on struggling restaurants. The motion to freeze WorkSafeBC premiums and reconsider wage levels was defeated, with only Cllr. Findlay and Manhas in favor.

3) A motion to reconsider the accelerated implementation of the BC Zero Carbon Step Code. Cllr. Findlay cited industry concerns about the rapid acceleration and high costs, suggesting better options might be available in six years. Cllr. Justice supported the step code for its long-term benefits. Cllr. Manhas noted the lack of consultation with builders. The motion was defeated, with Cllr. Findlay, Manhas, and Caljouw in favor.

May:

– The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions replied to Mayor Douglas’s request for detox and rehab funding, stating that due to the current fiscal environment, they could not provide financial support to the Municipality of North Cowichan.

– The 1st quarter payments to suppliers over $10k totaled $16,480,872. Cllr. Manhas questioned a $199,510 line item to Young Anderson Barrister & Solicitors, asking if it was for a lawsuit or property purchase, and was told it would be discussed in a closed meeting.

– The 1st quarter report on North Cowichan’s strategic plan was presented. Cllr. Justice praised climate action efforts, while Cllr. Findlay suggested updating the 2018 strategic plan due to changes in the council and global context.

– Permissive tax exemptions for nonprofits, charities, and religious groups were discussed, with feedback sought for potential changes. Suggestions included reducing the exemption period from 10 years to 4 years to align with the election cycle. Cllr. Justice proposed aligning exemptions with council goals, including environmental protection, and suggested not excluding groups with large financial resources, like Duck’s Unlimited, for strategic reasons.

– Cllr. Findlay noted the cost of exemptions was $601k last year and suggested assessing financial need, as both small organizations and large NGOs were requesting exemptions. Cllr. Toporowski inquired about a council that removed all tax exemptions and suggested a cap. Staff proposed a cap of 1.5% of total taxes. Mayor Douglas mentioned Smithers had removed all exemptions. Cllr. Manhas supported a cap, preferring 1.5% or 1%, while Cllr. Istace suggested a monetary cap instead of one based on property assessment.

Download the FOI here

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