Referendum on amalgamation of Duncan, North Cowichan could come at 2018 election

If everything falls into place in time, residents of North Cowichan and Duncan could decide in a referendum, to held on Oct. 20, 2018

If all aspects of the plan fall into place in time, residents of North Cowichan and Duncan could decide in a referendum, to held on Oct. 20, 2018, whether to amalgamate the two municipalities.

Both municipalities are seeking proposals from consultants to assist in the amalgamation process.

But the anticipated government funding for the consultants could delay, or even scuttle, the process.

A consultant, or consultants, is required to prepare a study on amalgamation that will consider its costs, savings and benefits.

They will also assist with developing the yet-to-be-chosen citizens’ assembly that, based on the study’s findings, will make a recommendation to both councils on the amalgamation of the two municipalities.

The aim is to complete the entire study process on amalgamation within the current political term of the two councils, and to have the referendum as part of the next municipal election in October, 2018.

It’s been estimated that consultant fees to help with the citizens’ assembly, which will be taking a major role in the process, could be up to $75,000, and consultant fees to assist with the amalgamation study are estimated to be approximately another $60,000.

The plan is for the costs of the process to be split three ways between the two municipalities and the province.

A statement from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development said ministry staff are reviewing the funding request, and will make a decision in the early fall.

But Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said he expects a “positive response” for the funding from the government.

He said the government’s participation is important to ensure it’s done in a “wholesome and transparent way”.

In addition, North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said all the resolutions from both councils regarding the amalgamation process are actually dependent on the anticipated funding from the government.

“If we don’t receive any financial assistance from the government for this process, then it may be time for both councils to think on how we want to move forward,” Lefebure said.

During the 2014 municipal election, Duncan and North Cowichan each included a non-binding question on their ballots regarding amalgamation of the two municipalities. In North Cowichan, 68 per cent favoured conducting a study to explore the costs and benefits of amalgamation, while 52 per cent of voters in Duncan were in favour.

To keep the amalgamation study as unbiased as possible, both councils agreed to establish the independent citizens’ assembly, which will consider the results of the study and make recommendations to both councils at a joint meeting.

Lefebure said if, at the end of the process, both municipalities agree to amalgamate, that process will likely take up all of the four years between 2018 and 2022, when the next municipal election will be held.

“Many believe there would be significant cost savings with amalgamation, and we’d see better efficiencies in a number of other areas, including the operation of recreational facilities and water services,” he said.