Amalgamation of Duncan, North Cowichan broached

North Cowichan council decided April 2 against asking their residents if they want to consider amalgamation with Duncan.

But they’re planning to talk with Duncan councillors at their already-scheduled joint meeting April 14 and then take another look themselves at the idea on April 16.

Even that was not decided without about an hour’s worth of debate Wednesday.

Coun. Jennifer Woike kicked if off by saying that the Cowichan Valley is not putting its best foot forward economically by being made up of a number of diverse communities.

"It needs a sense of place," she said and pointed to overlap of services, such as having two fire halls within half a kilometre of each other on Duncan Street in Duncan.

By even looking at the subject of amalgamation, Woike is echoing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who, in its Beggars Checklist for municipalities, is calling on all municipalities to seek "better cooperation for service delivery."

Costly duplication of services is also a problem for taxpayers that might be reduced by amalgamation, Woike said.

Coun. Al Siebring said, "the timing of this couldn’t be better," pointing out that as it’s an election year anyway, it’s easier and cheaper to fit in a plebiscite to take the pulse of the electorate, both in North Cowichan and Duncan. Woike was passionate about her side of the discussion.

"We need to show leadership. A decision would put the onus on Duncan," she said, pointing to such effective examples of working together as North Cowichan and Duncan’s response to the flood of 2009.

"We’re not asking for something to happen tomorrow but we maybe surprised at what we see from our residents," she urged.

Heavy opposition to the entire idea came from Coun. Ruth Hartmann who said that her own investigation into amalgamation had shown her that there can be stiff costs for rewriting and reworking many municipal documents and merging utilities as well as getting rid of half the administrative staff.

Hartmann reiterated that she did not want to see North Cowichan taxpayers given the idea that they’d be saving a lot of money.

Siebring agreed that the cost saving might not be as great as Woike had first thought.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana urged council to wait a little longer.

"I don’t see what the rush is to do it tonight. I don’t see any harm in talking with the City of Duncan first, especially from a relationship building point of view," he said.

In the end, a majority of council agreed, but they also agreed to bring the subject back to the next council meeting for a further look.

Duncan Coun. Martin Barker, who is also in favour of looking at amalgamation, spoke in an email to North Cowichan councillors before their discussion.

"Over 100 years ago we became two communities because of two differing visions," he said, calling for a second look.

Barker also addressed reducing redundancies.

"I have heard arguments that evidence shows that amalgamation is expensive. And, conceivably, amalgamation could cost Duncan its RCMP subsidy but the use of some common sense indicates there are enormous potential for savings.

"And, what of the vision of our community? What if [an entrepreneur wants] to have a cross-jurisdictional business?" Barker wrote.

"I know we are working towards making it easier for business in the Valley; but that is my point! One vision, for the entire community," he said.