The City of Duncan’s council has decided it would like to hold the referendum on the amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan in the spring of 2018.
Council voted 6-1 on the issue at its meeting on Sept. 5, with Councillor Tom Duncan voting against.
North Cowichan has already voted that it wants to hold the referendum next spring, rather than during the provincial election in October, 2018, at a council meeting in July.
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said the majority of council decided they would like to hold the referendum “sooner rather than later”.
He said the next step is for both municipalities to write the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selena Robinson to ask permission to hold the referendum.
He also said the municipalities will now hire a professional consultant organization to put together amalgamation information and present it to the public.
“The process has been transparent and open so far, and we intend for the next phase to be open and transparent as well,” Kent said.
“We want voters in both Duncan and North Cowichan to feel comfortable and have all the knowledge they need when they are asked to vote on amalgamation.”
The amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan was recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly in May.
The 36-member assembly cited a number of benefits to amalgamation, but noted the cost-savings to taxpayers from such a move would be “negligible”.
As part of the 2014 municipal elections, both Duncan and North Cowichan councils agreed to include on the ballot a non-binding opinion question in regards to exploring the costs and benefits of amalgamating the two municipalities.
In North Cowichan, 68 per cent of those casting ballots voted in favour of conducting an amalgamation study, and in Duncan, 52 per cent of voters were also in favour.
Kent said both councils are aware that holding the referendum in the spring of 2018 has challenges; including increased workloads for the staff of both municipalities as they prepare for the referendum within just a few months, and additional costs for not having the referendum at the same time as the provincial election.
“There’s no doubt there will be a lot of preliminary work to prepare for the referendum, but we’re pleased with the outline of the expected work ahead,” he said.
“As I said, it’s important to ensure that the citizens have all the information they need to make their choice.”