Amalgamation of North Cowichan, Duncan — case against

Amalgamation of North Cowichan, Duncan — case against

The merger of Duncan and North Cowichan would be a serious mistake

Amalgamation of North Cowichan, Duncan — case against

Martin Barker and Anne Murray had their say in support of the merger, I will give you the other side of the issue.

The merger of Duncan and North Cowichan (MNC) would be a serious mistake as recommended by the Citizens Assembly (CA). The CA based their recommendation for merger on biased emotional criteria rather than solid quantitative financial reasoning. For the CA to recommend that the two towns proceed with the merger on that basis was sadly misleading.

I attended both of the public meetings held on amalgamation that the CA helped to present. I found that the whole process was very biased because the fundamental question posed to the CA to answer was: what do you want your merged town to look like and what values should it have? The CA leader led a process designed to produce a merger recommendation.

The questions that should have been addressed were:

1. What is wrong with the present set up and how will a merger fix it?

2. What are the costs of going forward with a merged town and is that acceptable to taxpayers?

The truth is that there is nothing wrong with the present set up and the costs going forward in a merger are staggering. Duncan is an urban centre that deals with its urban issues very well. Its boundaries are contained, and serviced. Duncan has been effectively redeveloping itself and repairing its infrastructure. MNC on the other hand, is a rural/suburban town that has totally different issues and priorities. MNC, in addition to repairing its infrastructure, also has to deal with expensive expansion of its infrastructure to meet the growing needs of its suburbanization. Duncan, in a merger, would be compelled to participate in that expensive expansion that can be avoided by staying separate.

Misinformation was provided on taxes. Duncan was told their residential taxes would drop if they merged. That is false. MNC currently has higher total per capita taxation as reported by B.C. government statistics. The only reason MNC residential taxes appear lower is because MNC, unlike Duncan, currently has major industry (pulp, paper, sawmills) that pay a large disproportional amount of taxes to the benefit of MNC residentials; however, MNC has been shifting taxes from major industry to the residentials and major industry has been closing down in MNC. The technical report written by the amalgamation consultants also warns us that in the future, MNC taxes will rise at a much faster rate than Duncan’s and in a merger, Duncan will have to share in those increased taxes largely caused by expansion of infrastructure, not in Duncan but in MNC; a stand alone Duncan can avoid those taxes.

The CA also did a poor job of identifying the consequences, particularly to Duncan, of potential future costs of fire and policing costs; even though the tech report alluded to those expenses. Some folks say that Duncan’s policing costs will rise even after its population rises above 5,000. That is not true, because Duncan did not lower its taxes when its population fell below 5,000, instead diverting those taxes to pay for one-off capital projects. Additionally, if a merger occurs, the combined town would see its annual police costs rise by $1.4 million (in today’s dollars) after the one-time provincial government subsidy ends.

The technical report opened the door to the beginning of a full time fire department; it recommended hiring some full time staff. As experienced in Nanaimo during its amalgamation, full time firefighters will not work with volunteer firefighters. The cost implications for the merger are frightening. The four halls would each require 25 staff (includes coverage for illness etc.) at about $130k per person including benefits. Total incremental cost would rise by $11 million. To put the added cost of policing and fire fighters into perspective, your town taxes would increase by about 34 per cent in today’s dollars.

The impact of a merger on Chemainus and Crofton was not quantified. Currently, Chemainus enjoys a net benefit in capital spending as part of MNC. Duncan, folks are saying, has been told that they will be able to get more funds out of a merged town. In a merger, Chemainus will be in a battle for funds with Duncan. If both towns want to fill their spending appetites, then taxes will have to skyrocket for everyone.

The present relationship that Duncan has with MNC is akin to “sovereignty association” and it works. The question that Duncanites have to ask themselves before they vote is: would you marry someone just because you live in the smaller condo next door knowing that you will have to share in the bills for tearing down the walls and combining the two condos and paying a disproportional amount of your partner’s spending addiction going forward?

Don Swiatlowski

North Cowichan