The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce wants a more stable funding arrangement with local governments to finance the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre.
The visitor centre had been relying on $60,000 in funding annually from the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, with $30,000 from each, to help the centre deliver year-round visitor services to the region.
But the City of Duncan decreased the amount it funds the centre to $26,000 in 2019, and will only commit to $22,000 in 2020.
At the City of Duncan’s council meeting on Nov. 18, Coun. Tom Duncan said the amount the city pays, considering its population is just under 5,000 people, is unfair.
“North Cowichan has a lot more taxpayers than Duncan, so the amount we’re being asked to provide is not proportional,” he said.
“I think the funding should be based on population. North Cowichan is paying about $1 per taxpayer and we should do the same.”
Duncan staff were directed to send correspondence to the chamber of commerce requesting that they propose a fair formula for the three local governments — Duncan, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and North Cowichan — for funding the visitor centre in future years.
With an $8,000 shortfall in the visitor centre’s budget next year as a result of the city’s decision, a delegation from the chamber asked North Cowichan’s council at its meeting on Nov. 20 to raise its contribution to $38,000 in 2020 to cover the deficit.
Chamber president Chris Duncan said that, other than what the chamber itself provides, which is about $43,000 annually, the only revenue for the centre comes from the two municipalities and a small $12,500 grant a year from Destination BC.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring asked if the CVRD had been approached for funding for the centre.
Chris Duncan said the CVRD’s main financial contribution to supporting tourism in the region goes to Tourism Cowichan.
He also said that any contribution from the CVRD would be limited to $1,000 per electoral area, and to exceed that amount would mean the issue would have to go to referendum.
Julie Scurr, past president of the chamber, said there are only five electoral areas in the south of the CVRD that don’t have visitor facilities that could be asked to assist, but even if all agreed, it would still be only $5,000.
She said the annual funding for the centre is becoming an increasing problem for the chamber.
“We are now between a rock and hard place and are finding ourselves going back and forth between the municipalities and area directors every year to find the money,” Scurr said.
“What we need is a single funding arrangement with just one local government who would have a reciprocal agreement with the other governments to provide the funding.”
As for the statements by Tom Duncan that the City of Duncan is paying more than its share for the centre, Scurr said more than half of the approximately 30,000 tourists that visit the centre every year are directed to services in the city.
“Our number-one attraction is the City of Duncan,” she said.
“We’re an economic driver for the city but, unfortunately, they don’t see us that way.”