Both pool supporters and town councillors are happy that Lake Cowichan residents returned a resoundingly positive result in an informal poll to see if they want to continue paying towards the Cowichan Aquatic Centre.
A vote was held giving taxpayers the chance to tell council what they thought. It was closed July 2 and the ballots were counted at 10 a.m. July 3. Lake Cowichan CAO Joe Fernandez reported that the total turnout was 315, with 251 [or 79.9 per cent] in favour of Lake Cowichan continuing to pay into the pool and 63 against with one spoiled ballot.
Fernandez explained what was at stake and why council had decided to take the temperature of the electorate, even casually.
"The Town of Lake Cowichan entered into an agreement with the City of Duncan and the District of North Cowichan early in 2014 for equal access to the Aquatic Centre by residents of the Town, in return for a payment of an annual fee for the first year of $2,986."
The fee is to be adjusted by the Consumer Price Index for the subsequent year of 2015, 2016 and 2017, if the agreement is renewed after the first year. "For 2014, residents from the town are not required to pay the higher twotier fee to use the pool unless the town decides to withdraw from the current arrangement by year end," Fernandez said.
A "yes" or "no" vote was asked of the voters based on the question: "The Town of Lake Cowichan has signed a one year access agreement for use of the Cowichan Aquatics Centre at annual cost of $2,986 for 2014. Are you in favour of continued participation in this agreement from 2015 to 2017 with annual cost increases based on CPI?" Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest was delighted at the decisive result.
"It just makes it a lot more clear. I wasn’t expecting it to be that decisive, I actually thought the town was more split on it. That’s why we had a hard issue with it ourselves at council. I’m happy it turned out the way it did," he said.
"For some people that don’t use it, maybe they wonder why they should be paying for it, but nobody is going to be over-taxed with this," he said. "If it had passed or was defeated by 51 per cent then you’d have to wonder was a decision really made on this or not?" Asked what is council’s next step, the mayor said, "We’ll talk about it at some upcoming council meeting. We’re in till the end of this year with our grant-inaid.
This would become a next year’s budget item for us. We have to come up with just under $3,000 a year. It’s not like a huge item whichever way you look at it."
He doesn’t anticipate any hiccups. "When it comes up next year, there won’t be any problem putting this on our budget. When we know that 79.9 per cent of those that voted thought this was something we should be paying for. That helps us," Forrest said.
Forrest said he hasn’t used the pool yet, although he enjoys swimming, "but I have no problem paying an extra $2 a year on my taxes just to help people use it. I think it adds value to our community."
It’s long been an argument in the Cowichan Valley’s far-flung communities that in order for them all to attract new residents they have to be able to offer amenities.
Lake Cowichan resident Ted Gamble has been pushing for membership in the pool group for some time and he was thrilled with the vote.
"Someone told me there were 1,500 eligible voters so that’s about 20 per cent that turned out and voted in favour. It’s
a pretty good litmus test," he said. It’s a good thing, too, that there was such a strong vote. My wife and I worked hard talking to people almost every time we went out walking with our dog and stuff. Everywhere I met people I found a way to bring up the vote. I tried to encourage people to get out and exercise their democratic rights. It’s great to participate."
Gamble said he’d heard before that councillors were split on the idea and had wanted to test the waters.
"I kept saying that all along: they’re doing the vote for a reason. They kept saying it was non-binding but nonetheless, it was being done for a reason and it is going to be taken as directional evidence," he said.
"I’m very happy. It really is a good thing for the community both now and in the future. These rural communities need to attract healthy middle class families now. People do their research. Ladysmith has its own pool right there at very reasonable cost. For a place like Lake Cowichan, it’s a barrier if you have to pay twice the amount to get into the pool that we have access to," Gamble said.