The numbers of above won't, of course, constitute your total increase. The property tax requisition will also include the education component, utility fees (sewer, water and garbage,) the Hospital Board levy, and the CVRD tax bill. (In spite of some valiant efforts by Councillor Rob Douglas and myself at last week's final CVRD Board budget meeting, that CVRD increase is going to be in the range of 8.5%; we did manage to whittle that down from an original increase of almost 13%.)
The budget pressures this year included a major new shot of funding for the Chesterfield Sports Society - the "Sportsplex" - which lost a ton of funding when potential regional partners pulled out in the referenda that were held last November. The dilemma for us there, of course, was that if we didn't make up at least a portion of that shortfall, we ran the risk of ending up with the entire operation on our books; operating that facility with union staff as opposed to what is largely a volunteer base would have much larger implications than the extra $35-thousand dollars we committed this year. This situation has some history, which you can read in a blog post I put up a few years ago, here.
The other unexpected hit this year was additional funding for the new Regional Visitor's Centre. That Centre has been a huge success; the number of people stopping in has pretty much doubled in the first eight months of operation, and under normal circumstances, that would have precipitated an increase in funding from the Province. Destinations BC, (the Tourism Ministry) has historically funded these Centres based on the traffic they generate. When our facility was built, part of the budget planning included an assumption that this Provincial funding would be increasing along with the traffic, and that a good chunk of the operational side of the budget would be covered by those increases.
But the Province pulled the rug out from under those plans earlier this year by freezing funding for all Visitor Centres at previous years' levels. Which means the Provincial funding for new facility will be based on the paltry visitor numbers that were being generated at the old site. While a funding "freeze" might be understandable for long-standing operations, our new facility got caught in the middle of this change. We will be lobbying Tourism Minister Shirley Bond for an "exception" to the freeze when we see her at UBCM this September - it just doesn't seem fair to have these rules literally change "in the middle of the game." But in the short term, the bills at the Centre need to be paid. Which is why we stepped up with some extra funding for this year. (And for the record, so did the City of Duncan.)
All of which is to say that without the unexpected pressures posed by the two issues above, this year's North Cowichan increase would have been kept well under 3%.
But there are certain frustrations inherent in the budget process. Just a quick anecdote.
The budget included a plan to spend $75,000 on an upgrade to the "rail wire" on the Crofton Seawalk. If you've ever been on that Seawalk, you know that the elevated parts of the walkway are enclosed with a structure made of metal posts, topped with a metal rail. Also strung along the full length of the boardwalk are some "rail wires" - essentially, thin cables. The original part of the Seawalk - the stretch between the Museum and the campsite - has just three wires. The newer part, further south, has four.
Last year, we received a complaint that the "three-wire configuration" (shown on the left) was unsafe; that pets or small children could get underneath the bottom wires and fall to the rocks below. We brought in a company to do a professional risk assessment and sure enough, we were told that it would be a good idea - in the interest of liability protection - to add the fourth wire on the old portion of the Seawalk. That's where the $75-thousand dollar recommendation came from.
The issue came up last night, and Councillor Joyce Behnsen made a motion (which I seconded), to take that $75-thousand out of the budget. We had a good discussion about the issue, and for some of us, it came down to how much we want to "bubble-wrap" our kids to protect them from everyday hazards.
"...we're too (over-)protective of our kids. This is just one small example of that, and to me this isn't warranted. God forbid that this risk assessor goes around the whole Municipality and assesses it."Councillor Maguire - who has three fairly young children - had some recent first-hand experience with the cable issue. She had taken her kids there for a walk earlier this spring to have a first-hand look at the potential hazard, and she told Council that one of those children actually tried to go under the wire on the new portion of the Seawalk, where there's four wires in place - and that the child probably would have made it were it not for the firm hand of parental restraint. But she was dead-set against installing the fourth wire. "I think it's my job as a parent to make sure (my children) learn from that experience, and by 'padding' them throughout their lives, they don't get these opportunities to learn that you shouldn't go underneath a railing on the side of a walkway like this. I don't need that as a parent, and I hope as a society we don't want more of this. I've seen it go too far the other way where we're too (over)-protective of our kids. This is just one small example of that, and to me this isn't warranted. God forbid that this risk assessor goes around the whole Municipality and assesses it. There's probably 20 infractions on Maple Bay beach alone. I don't think we need to pad everything in our environment."
I concurred, asking how "accident-proof" we really want to make our infrastructure. But in the end, a majority of Council decided to go the safe route to forestall any potential liability claims. The $75-thousand stays in the budget.
We essentially have only one more thing to decide on this year's budget, and that's the proportional allocation of the taxes among the various "classes". This may revive the debate about the shift away from the Heavy Industry class that was done in 2012. That decision will be made by early May; the tax notices are due to hit your mailbox by May 25th.