Directors question freeze in first budget look

Cowichan Valley Regional District directors kicked their 2014 budget around the boardroom last week making only a few preliminary decisions.

Admittedly, the talks have started a month early this year, but the idea was to give CVRD staff some idea of what the board was thinking so they could come up with some more concrete figures when the rubber meets the road.

Grants-in-aid, always a contentious subject, will not be debated until the end of February according to district Chief Administrative Officer Warren Jones.

However, board members were finding it hard, even at such an early stage to stick by their previous order of zero increase budgets for each department.

North Cowichan director Barb Lines said she would have preferred to see details of what zero increases would actually look like rather than just hear recommendations.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent agreed but said, “we would all like to do things but we have to set priorities.”

Area F’s Ian Morrison said he saw a “significant shift” in the driving force behind the budget, which seems to be solely looking at reducing the drain on the taxpayer.

“It wasn’t long ago staff was looking at building up operational reserves; they were to smooth out the bumps,” he said. “That does not seem to be a priority any longer. I think we’re going to be having to look at catching up next year for the essential freeze we are putting on the budget this year.”

Exhausted directors, many at the end of a 12-hour day, moved a few items forward and referred the others to the next meeting.

Regional tourism will get no increase this year, and neither will the regional parks, the Kinsol trestle, and regional parkland acquisition sections of the budget.

Directors agreed to spend $30,000 to develop community economic development profiles with an eye to encouraging investment in the Valley and $20,000 for updating the area agriculture plan, plus $5,000 for developing an incubator farm program also got a green light but everything else, including talk about a communications officer for the district and help for the arts and culture division will have to wait.

There will be several more meetings before a final budget is approved at the end of March.