A tax increase of 3.2 per cent for property owners in North Cowichan in 2019 has been approved, in principal, by council.
At its meeting on March 6, council had a lengthy discussion around the amount of the increase, with some councillors asking if it was possible to reduce it below three per cent.
Coun. Tek Manhas said one of his campaign promises during the municipal elections in October was to work to keep tax increases to the rate of inflation.
Coun. Christopher Justice asked if the planned hiring of a chief building inspector, at a cost of $112,500 annually, in 2019 could be postponed to bring the tax increase down.
CAO Ted Swabey said the shortage of building inspectors in the municipality has seen some development applications take up to 16 weeks to process last year.
He said that has “huge implications” for developers looking to build in North Cowichan, so the hiring of a new chief building inspector is considered a number-one priority.
“As well, the number of complaints around secondary suites that we have to deal with won’t be cleared up for years (due to under staffing),” Swabey said.
“There’s so much that we haven’t been able to deal with.”
Planning director Rob Conway added the three building inspectors currently working in North Cowichan are “fully engaged.”
“There’s a risk that if we lose one, we’d have serious problems,” he said.
“Building inspectors have specialized skilled sets and are hard to come by so we have no back-up. The building code is also becoming increasingly complex and a new chief building inspector would give us more time to meet its increasing standards.”
Plans by the municipality to hire a person to specialize in climate change and environmental issues, at a cost still to be determined, was also raised at the meeting, with some council members asking if it can be postponed as a cost-saving measure.
But Coun. Kate Marsh said environmental issues are already becoming a problem in the region and are expected to get worse so the position is needed as soon as possible.
She said Cowichan Lake, which is a drinking water source for North Cowichan, is currently 60 per cent lower than what it should be at this time of year, which could have severe implications when the dry season begins.
“We have a lot of work to do (in regards to dealing with climate change and environmental issues),” Marsh said.
“We might be able get some funding for this position down the road, which would make it cheaper for the municipality. I wish we could have a zero tax increase, but that’s not how the world works.”
The motion for a 3.2 tax increase passed, with councillors Rob Douglas and Manhas opposed.
Staff now has to come back to council with a financial plan bylaw that includes the five-year budget plan and an accompanying tax rates bylaw for council to adopt.