Preliminary bylaws have been passed, paving the way for the Cowichan Valley Regional District to collect more taxes from Shawnigan Lake residents for the purpose of funding the fledgling Shawnigan Basin Society.
If everything goes according to plan, residents could see a maximum $2.98 per $100,000 increase on their tax bills specifically earmarked for the Society.
The goal is to collect $50,000 annually.
An alternative approval process (AAP) was held in late December and early January to offer those opposed a chance to quash the idea. Only 10 per cent of eligible voters (570 residents) was needed, but just 152 voiced their displeasure, which gave the project the green light if the board agreed.
"This is quite a bellwether move on behalf of the people of Shawnigan," area director Bruce Fraser said after the bylaw was passed at a board meeting Wednesday evening. "In effect, by approving the AAP for raising a $50,000 a year fund from the tax base, the community is actually, I think, probably amongst a very small number in British Columbia who provided direct money from their own tax base to actually fund the development of a watershed management capability."
He said the move would put them in a good position to further fundraise.
"This gives us leverage. It says we’re prepared to put our own money up front and that gives us the legitimacy to apply for other people’s," he said.
Fraser noted the Shawnigan Basin Society aims to set up the broadly based Shawnigan Basin Authority to work on watershed management and public safety issues within the Shawnigan and upper Koksilah basins.
"This is part of an initiative which looks 10 to 40 years into the future, not just today, because of course the Shawnigan basin as everyone knows is heavily impacted and is likely to continue to be so because all of the land is privately owned and therefore subject to private agendas," he said.
While none of the board disagreed the issue was an important one to tackle, some wondered if there wasn’t a different way to go about the same type of plan.
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent lauded Fraser and Shawnigan residents for their commitment to the project’s goals and objectives but wondered if other organizational options were considered.
"I’m wondering, were there other thoughts as to how a function like this could be funded through the regional district? Could we have met the same objectives: the leveraging, the collaboration and coordination?" he asked. "I am a little bit concerned about what the actual business plan for these annual contributions and will the board have some input with regard to how that money is distributed?" Fraser said the set-up would be no different than other outside projects the CVRD funds.
"If they receive money from the regional district they are accountable to the operation here and also to the board," Fraser said. "Therefore they have to file annual reports, annual budgets, show what is being done, show value for money both publicly and to the authorities which are providing the funds."
The passing of the Shawnigan Basin Society Annual Financial Contribution Service Establishment bylaw only permits the CVRD board to move ahead with the plan. Further work on the initiative needs to be done before any funds are collected.