Incorrect information about the effects of amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan is circulating widely, and it needs to be set straight before people vote on June 23, says Munro Thompson Communications Inc.
The company is responsible for the ongoing third-party public information campaign on the amalgamation referendum on behalf of the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan.
One common misconception around any amalgamation of North Cowichan and Duncan is that taxpayers would see their residential tax rates increase tens of percentages, some have stated up to 34 per cent, over current rates.
That would not necessarily be so if the residents of both communities decide to amalgamate Munro Thompson Communications said.
In a statement, the firm said the technical report on amalgamation, prepared by Vancouver’s Urban Systems, has projected that if residents choose amalgamation, the automatic impacts to residential property taxation would be negligible.
“The elimination of the police bridging levy, currently only paid by Duncan residents, by amalgamating the two municipalities is likely to result in slightly lower taxes for Duncan residents and slightly higher taxes for North Cowichan residents,” the statement said.
“Throughout the public information campaign, we have come across a few ‘facts’ that have been circulating that are incorrect. We have put together a document outlining these mistakes and providing the correct information from the technical report. These are misconceptions that important for people to understand correctly.”
Another misconception out there is around just what the total costs to amalgamation would be, according to the statement.
Among the numbers floating around is that amalgamation would cost $22 million, or it will save $830,000.
“The technical report shows that since both municipalities currently run a lean governance structure, there is limited opportunity to gain efficiencies and save money by amalgamating,” the statement said.
“The automatic financial impacts to amalgamation would likely be positive in some areas and negative in others.”
Munro Thompson said the technical report projects that amalgamating and streamlining services could decrease the cost of local government by between $140,000 and $830,000 a year.
“Currently, Duncan pays both the provincial police tax of $280,000, and a police bridging capital levy of $770,000,” the statement said.
“Should amalgamation proceed, both of these levies would be eliminated, offsetting taxes for the new municipality’s policing by $1,050,000. Since the new municipality would have a population of over 15,000, it would pay for 90 per cent of its police services. This change would increase the cost of police services by between $1,370,000 and $2,060,000.”
Another misconception being circulated is that amalgamation means merging fire halls and hiring full-time career firefighters, potentially costing the new municipality millions.
“The amalgamation does not require any changes to the delivery of existing fire protection services,” the statement said.
“The technical report clearly states that no changes to the current model are necessary for amalgamation, and the fire halls can continue to operate in the same manner as they currently do should the amalgamation proceed.”
The statement said the technical report summarizes that the combination of these impacts, along with the additional loss of the Small Community Grant (currently $510,000, and only received by the City of Duncan) may require an overall increase in taxation of between $690,000 to $1,290,000 annually, if amalgamation goes forward.”
This means that amalgamation is not likely to produce significant cost savings, yet it won’t necessarily result in substantial tax increases, according to the statement.
“The actual changes to service delivery, protective services and taxation would depend on decisions made regarding all services by a future council,” it said.