Cowichan Valley Regional District directors debate new staff, tech

While the nine regional budgets passed smoothly through the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Regional Services Committee on Wednesday evening, there was considerably more wrangling about supplemental items brought forward for the consideration of directors.

The top priority item was to create a position for a communications coordinator for the district at a total cost of $108,125 including salary and benefits.

The board members who make up the committee ended up passing the item, but not before several attempts were made to reduce the cost.

Chief Administrative Officer Brian Carruthers explained that the post is badly needed, as the CVRD is not very good at communicating with the public. The district tends to be reactive only, rather than proactively getting information out in accordance with a proper plan, he said.

He said he is personally having to spend time editing press releases so they are not overly technical for the general public.

The idea of the position drew avid support from many members of the board.

"People don’t know what’s going on here," said new Dir. Matteus

Clement. He said it was one of the biggest things he heard when campaigning.

"We’re doing a really poor job of showing the excellent services we have here, so of course people don’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth," he said.

Others were supportive of the position, but questioned the salary.

"This seems awfully high to me," said Alternate Director Sharon Jackson.

Dir. Rob Hutchins proposed a reduction in the amount requisitioned for this year to reflect that the person hired would only be working for part of the year, but was overruled by his fellow directors who don’t want to give their constituents a false idea of

what the true cost will be in the years to come.

Dir. Klaus Kuhn then tried to lessen compensation to $80,000. That too was defeated.

Carruthers explained that about 25 per cent of the cost will go to benefits, leaving a salary of about $75,000, an amount not out of line with what those in the business are paid.

Five directors ended up opposing the item at $108,125, but it passed.

Tier II items were also debated. A website upgrade for $28,300 passed.

"I just cannot believe how things have evolved and how backwards our website is now," said Hutchins, acknowledging how difficult it is to find things on the site, especially is you’re new to it.

"If your website is five years old it’s antiquated," confirmed Jackson.

Directors also passed the creation of a sport tourism function for $55,000, in spite of opposition from some.

Jackson moved the motion, saying that a bid that’s been put in for the under 18 girls national hockey tournament in conjunction with other mid-Island communities is already pending. "That alone is going to be bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said, explaining that the revenue generated will easily top the 2015 cost of the function by at least 10 times.

"The potential here is immense."

Dir. Ian Morrison agreed, saying there is no doubt that sport tourism is "hugely beneficial to the community. This $55,000 is going to pay such huge dividends."

"It’s a real multiplier," Dir. Mel Dorey echoed.

"It’s economic development that I have see and know produces direct results," agreed Dir. Jon Lefebure.

Dir. Rob Douglas was not in favour, instead proposing that the funds be found from within the existing tourism function.

Dir. Alison Nicholson said supporting it at this time would not be strategically responsible, as the economic development function, under whose umbrella the new function would fall, is awaiting a reorganization. The four directors who opposed the expenditure were outvoted.

Audio visual upgrades for the CVRD boardroom in the amount of $73,000 was referred to a future meeting, where staff will present directors with an itemized list.

There was not a lot of stomach to do the entire upgrade this year, but there was interest in perhaps doing some of the project, such as replacing the web camera.