The tender for the retrofit and expansion of Lake Cowichan Town Hall has been awarded to Nanaimo-based CopCan Civil Limited Partnership, the same company that built the Meade Creek Recycling facility in the spring of 2017. (Sarah Simpson/Gazette)

The tender for the retrofit and expansion of Lake Cowichan Town Hall has been awarded to Nanaimo-based CopCan Civil Limited Partnership, the same company that built the Meade Creek Recycling facility in the spring of 2017. (Sarah Simpson/Gazette)

Editorial: Big ticket items make for tough choices for Cowichan’s councils

Councils should be looking into the future since some of these replacements can be anticipated

Cowichan’s municipalities have had to face a number of tough decisions of late about investing in some big ticket items.

The City of Duncan is facing the need to buy a new ladder truck for its fire department at a cost of almost $2 million for the most economical option. North Cowichan is deciding whether to make a switch to trucks that will allow for automated garbage pickup as their old trucks near replacement age. The Cowichan Valley Regional District got the bad news recently that a planned pickleball court with accompanying amenities for which they had received a grant they had hoped would pay for the entire project had ballooned in construction costs, requiring an additional financial commitment to go forward. Under construction is a new detachment for the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP that will also integrate several other services. The cost of that project when it was first discussed compared to what it has turned out to be is vastly different. In Lake Cowichan the council there just approved a tender for renovations on their municipal hall that have been years in the making — only the price tag has gone up significantly.

These are by no means easy decisions. Councillors are all too familiar with the fact that taxpayers keep an eagle eye on the bills and don’t like to see them go up. But it is inevitable that old infrastructure comes due for replacement and it cannot be put off indefinitely without catastrophic consequences.

Some things that councils must take into consideration when these items come before them are a) if the item is necessary, b) if it will benefit their constituents, and c) if they don’t bite the bullet now and shell out for the cost, will the cost increase exponentially down the road when it’s time to pay the piper.

Councils can and should be looking into the future since some of these replacements can be anticipated. To lessen the blow to taxpayers, they can create funds to which money is dedicated every year, so that when the time comes, there is cash in reserve. Lake Cowichan’s CAO made just this argument to Lake Cowichan council in their discussion over their municipal hall tender.

Other things are more difficult to anticipate, such as huge sudden spikes in materials or construction costs.

But it’s important to note that foot-dragging can also lead to unnecessary run-ups. So declining to make a decision (so it’s the political responsibility of the next council) isn’t always what’s best for the municipality, even if it looks better in the short term.

Editorials