Proposed CVRD services worth the risk?
I have heard some people, some pundits and some politicians voicing concerns about the upcoming CVRD referendum questions on drinking water and watershed protection and affordable housing.
It seems that the main criticism is based on the perceived lack of specific details as to how exactly will they spend the approximately $1.5 million that will be raised through this property tax assessment. $1.5 million is a lot of money and the distribution of it must of course be decided annually by our elected CVRD directors. Those directors will also be charged with reviewing the levy every year, accessing the results and recommending changes, reductions, or elimination of the service funding if they feel that the taxpayers are not getting good value. The thing that they will not be able to do is significantly raise the tax amount without seeking further taxpayer approval.
It is my understanding that much of the money raised locally will be seed money to be used to leverage grants from provincial and federal governments as well as from foundations and industry. The Cowichan Watershed Board is a good example of this model. The CWB receives $50,000 a year from the CVRD and in 2018 they are managing $230,000 in funding from various sources including foundations, industry and senior governments, plus more than $70,000 in donated and volunteer time, equipment and materials. This means that a $50,000 investment by CVRD taxpayers is yielding a 600 per cent return which provides local jobs and funds research, education, outreach, protection and restoration and supports dozens of volunteers with boots on the ground making watershed stewardship and protection happen in the Cowichan and Koksilah watersheds. In spite of this work being done, there are many other watersheds in the CVRD that need attention, as well as aquifers and water systems that would benefit from regional oversight and coordinated approaches to development and protection.
It is my hope and expectation that if both of these referendums pass, we will see this modest investment of around $40 per year by property owners (approximately $20/year for each service per $500,000 assessed property value) turned into many millions of dollars of direct investment into our community with the long term result of providing affordable housing for many individuals and families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, and increased protection of our precious and vulnerable watersheds and drinking water supplies. The fact that some of the funds raised may be contracted to select NGOs seems like a positive move to me in that they can be nimble, cost effective, not burdened by bureaucracy and able to recruit ranks of volunteers in a way that governments cannot.
As I have attended one already, I would strongly encourage anyone with doubts about the value of these proposed CVRD services to attend one of the many information sessions and make sure you fully understand all of the potential benefits of this initiative being proposed by the CVRD elected officials and staff. This important opportunity will not knock again any time soon, so please ask the questions, learn the facts and remember to vote for the future you want for yourself and your children.
For myself, on careful consideration of the available facts regarding risks and rewards, I will be voting yes to both questions. The worst case scenario is that I am out the cost of one cup of coffee and muffin a month, with the best case being that 10 years from now we will be a long way down the road towards secure and sustainable water resources and many more affordable housing options throughout the Cowichan region.