Regional board approves $2.5 million per year for parkland acquisition fund
The Cowichan Valley Regional District board has voted to put about $2.5 million annually into a regional parkland acquisition fund — a decision rooted in the results of a public referendum almost 16 years ago.
The decision follows a presentation by David Slade, representing the group, Socially Responsible Investing Cowichan. He is also a member of the Cowichan Watershed Board and former president of the BC Groundwater Association.
Slade noted that a regional district referendum in 2008 showed about 70 percent public support for a regional parkland acquisition fund.
“The taxpayers spoke very loudly and very clearly in support of this fund.”
The tax was originally set at $5 per $100,000 assessed property value, he added.
In 2014 the regional board passed a bylaw that set a statutory limit equal to the greater of $958,000 or $7.42 per $100,000 assessed property value — representing a potential annual contribution to the fund of about $2.5 million, Slade said.
But he said the board has been putting $750,000 per year into the fund, rather than adopting a higher amount as set out in the bylaw.
Until now, that is.
The board on Thursday approved full funding in a weighted 26-22 vote. Some directors felt it was the wrong time for more taxes, or wanted the acquisition fund to increase on a more gradual basis. (More on weighted voting: https://bitly.ws/3cQd9 .)
Slade said that increased population and land prices support the immediate need for an improved parkland acquisition fund. It’s possible the fund could help in acquiring such properties as old-growth forests and Grant Lake in the Koksilah watershed, Shaw Creek near Cowichan Lake, and lands on Cobble Hill Mountain, he said.
Board chair Aaron Stone, who is Mayor of Ladysmith, said: “It’s becoming more and more clear every year how important it is to preserve those special pieces of land, especially those that are most important to our watersheds.”
Covid-19 has shown the importance of natural places to residents’ mental and physical health, he added.
North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas said that currently the average home in North Cowichan is assessed at about $742,000. That represents a tax of about $48 per year to fully fund the parkland acquisition initiative.
“There’s a significant amount of (public) support for this approach,” he said.
North Cowichan Councillor Christopher Justice said: “We have to balance many priorities. And one of the balance points for me is today’s demands versus looking after the future….I think we’re out of balance. We’re so busy putting out today’s fires that we don’t pay adequate attention to our sustainability goals.”
Bruce Coates, president of Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society, was among several individuals who spoke in support of Slade’s request.
Coates said people spend most of their time indoors and may forget “there is a whole world of beings out there that need protection, help and encouragement and the only way they can do that is if we have as much land and space for them as possible.
“Biodiversity is a parallel problem to climate change — and it’s a big problem. We need to start working on that.”
You can find video of the Feb. 8 board debate at: https://cvrd.primegov.com/public/portal .
(Photo: Koksilah old-growth forest)
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— Larry Pynn, Feb. 10, 2024