The referendum on the amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan should be held in the spring of 2018, North Cowichan’s council decided on July 19.
Council was asked by staff to decide if they wanted to hold the referendum next spring, or at the same time as the next municipal elections on Oct. 20, 2018.
Staff provided council with a number of pros and cons of holding the referendum during both times.
Among the advantages of holding the referendum next spring, according to the staff report, is that it would resolve the issue sooner, it would minimize the period of municipal uncertainty and it would “depoliticize” the referendum from election issues.
As for the advantages of holding the referendum in the fall of 2018, staff report that it would give more time to prepare information and educate voters, a higher voter turnout would be likely as the referendum would be held at the same time as the municipal election, and it would cost less than a separate referendum.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said the referendum should be held next spring because “it’s a big issue that needs to be addressed”.
“It’s not rocket science to see that by working together, both Duncan and North Cowichan would be more efficient,” she said.
Duncan’s council voted on the same resolution at its meeting earlier this week, but it was defeated as the vote was a tie.
Duncan’s council, whose support is needed before any steps toward amalgamation can proceed, is expected to vote again on the referendum issue at its next meeting on Aug. 8.
The amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan was recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly in May.
The 36-member assembly cited a number of benefits to amalgamation, but noted the cost-savings to taxpayers from such a move would be “negligible”.
As part of the 2014 municipal elections, both Duncan and North Cowichan councils agreed to include on the ballot a non-binding opinion question in regards to exploring the costs and benefits of amalgamating the two municipalities.
In North Cowichan, 68 per cent of those casting ballots voted in favour of conducting an amalgamation study, and in Duncan, 52 per cent of voters were also in favour.
In North Cowichan, Mayor Jon Lefebure, Coun. Kate Marsh and Coun. Rob Douglas were opposed to holding the referendum next spring.
“Amalgamation is not a top priority for me,” Douglas said.
“I think we have other priorities that we need to focus on right now. The referendum should be delayed as long as possible.”