The Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre will likely have to find $4,000 from other sources to help cover its budget for 2019 if the City of Duncan cuts some of its annual funding, as planned.
The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, which runs the visitor centre on Drinkwater Road, said in a letter that the chamber has been advised that council proposes to grant just $26,000 from the city in its budget for 2019 to help run the centre instead of the $30,000 grant it had received annually for the past six years.
“We are very disappointed with this proposed decision as there was no indication nor consultation to indicate council is considering a reduction of our funding,” said chamber president Chris Duncan.
“This short notice presents a significant challenge for the chamber in continuing to support year-round operations of the visitor centre.”
The visitor centre has 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 run the centre.
Duncan said the funding from the two municipalities allows the centre to continue to deliver year-round visitor services to Duncan and the region.
“The chamber already subsidizes a portion of the operations of the centre and we just don’t have the resources to increase that subsidy at this time,” he told council, requesting that council reinstate the $4,000 onto the grant.
“We are half way through our fiscal year and this puts a huge burden on chamber staff to find opportunities to make up the $4,000 shortfall in revenues.”
Julie Scurr, past president of the chamber, added that the reduction in funding from the City of Duncan could mean that the hours the visitor centre are planned to be open this year could have to be cut.
“Then we won’t be able to direct tourists to all the wonderful attractions in the area, including downtown Duncan, where we send more than half of the people who visit the centre,” she said.
“Tourism is a growing industry and it’s expected to keep growing, so the money the city is spending to help direct tourists to the city’s businesses and attractions would be made up over and over again. A proposal to have North Cowichan grant an additional $4,000 per year for the visiting centre was already rejected by the municipality’s council in 2017. The municipality also helps fund the Chemainus Visitor Centre, so North Cowichan already spends $55,000 a year to support these centres.”
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said the city has been in discussions with the chamber about this issue since 2017.
She said the discussions have revolved around the significant difference in size of North Cowichan and the city and the need for a more equitable funding formula for the City of Duncan.
“We had talked about a number of different formulas, including one based on population, but that didn’t seem right to us,” Staples said.
“A breakdown of business licences was proposed and seemed more reasonable given the city’s commitment to supporting the chamber.”
Paige MacWilliam, Duncan’s director of corporate services, said the city’s formula for estimating the amount it should grant the chamber for the visitor centre is based on the number of business licences both the city and North Cowichan had in 2017, when the discussions first began.
At that time, North Cowichan had 792 businesses and the City of Duncan had 610.
MacWilliam said the funding formula based on that number of business licences would see a split of approximately $34,000 from North Cowichan, and approximately $26,000 from the City of Duncan.
Staples said that while this formula is being proposed for 2019, it doesn’t mean that the city would not consider any other funding suggestions for the visitor centre that may come forward in the future.