Staff in North Cowichan are expected to recommend a tax increase of approximately 3.2 per cent in 2019 at the next council meeting on March 6.
Last month, staff presented council with spending options that, if all were implemented, could have seen property taxes increase by as much as seven per cent this year.
But finance director Mark Frame said staff were directed by council to find ways to reduce the proposed tax increase and present them to council for consideration.
Frame said that while the municipality was proposing to increase staffing by hiring five new people, at a cost of $505,000 annually, those numbers will now likely be reduced.
The proposed five new positions included a chief building inspector ($112,500), program and services coordinator ($104,000), procurement advisor ($104,000), applications analyst ($95,500) and part-time land administrator ($89,000).
But Frame said, from those five, staff are now recommending that just a new chief building inspector be hired.
“Council just recently completed its strategic plan for 2019 and has decided to undertake new priorities, and those new positions are not a priority at this time anymore,” he said.
“We’re also recommending that the municipality hire a crime analyst, which will be partly funded (50 per cent) by the province, and a person to specialize in climate change and environmental issues.”
Coun. Kate Marsh made a motion at the council meeting on Feb. 20 for staff to prepare a report on the logistics of hiring a person to specialize in climate change and environmental issues.
It was pointed out in the meeting that there are currently many sources of funds available from numerous agencies and organizations for projects related to climate change and environmental issues that could be tapped into to help pay for the new position.
Frame also said North Cowichan was anticipating a budget shortfall of around $150,000 in 2019 due to council’s decision on Feb. 15 not to allow new logging contracts in its municipal forest reserve this year.
But council decided since then that it would harvest trees that had blown down in the reserve this year, which will bring in some revenue, and it has also been determined that the financial shortfall will be offset by around $25,000 from the Forestry Reserve Fund and $125,000 through budget savings from other sources, including postponing the 2019 phase of the Crofton/Maple Bay Trail, meaning that there will be no tax increase related to the forest strategy this year.
Mayor Al Siebring said he can’t predict what tax rate will be acceptable for council.
“Some have said that the tax increase should no more than three per cent, while others are not committed to having a cap,” he said.
“We’ll look at what will be presented and decide whether we can live with it, or whether we want the tax increase to go down from what is being recommended, or to hire more people and other expenses and have it go up. But I think we’re moving in the right direction.”