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CVRD funds reduced-cost visitor information centre

Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce president Ranjit Dhami touts the virtues of the regional visitors centre at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in February of 2011. A year later, the CVRD has agreed to funding that should allow the centre to proceed. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce president Ranjit Dhami touts the virtues of the regional visitors centre at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in February of 2011. A year later, the CVRD has agreed to funding that should allow the centre to proceed.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

An eleventh-hour look at the numbers meant the majority of Cowichan Valley Regional District directors were comfortable supporting the visitor information office at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre — by reducing the contribution to $293,000 from the requested $609,000.

The decision means local taxpayers will pay about $.39 per $100,000 of assessed property value for the project over the next five years.

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure spent Wednesday morning going over the figures with the municipality's CAO Dave Devana, revising the budget to make it more palatable for the CVRD board.

He brought the new numbers forward to CVRD administrator Warren Jones right before the CVRD's Wednesday afternoon special board meeting dedicated to deciding whether to financially support the visitor information centre.

But none of the other project stakeholders — including the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce — knew about the revision before the meeting.

Nor did Duncan Mayor Phil Kent, who chairs the Island Coastal Economic Trust, the organization slated to add $750,000 toward the project based on the CVRD's contribution — which has now been sliced in half.

For his part, Lefebure was adamant the revisions would not mean the loss of the ICET funding.

"ICET funding is generated proportionally," he explained. "Our calculations, based on our knowledge, said we'd still be able to get all the ICET funding. And if there is a reduction it'll be based on a percentage basis."

Kent, however, advised caution.

"Without confirmation from the trust," he said in reaction to Lefebure's proposal, "I would be cautious about whether that would be the case or not."

Meanwhile, Lefebure explained the CVRD would be able to pare down its contribution by installing a gravel parking lot at the centre, building to LEED standard but not applying for the costly LEED certification, and using municipal staff where possible in the building process to cut costs.

"We believe we can provide a gravel parking lot there at very little cost to the municipality," he said. "We don't believe it has to be completely top-of-the-line right at this moment."

But not all directors were on board with funding the project, even with the reduced CVRD proposal.

Directors in some of the valley's outlying areas couldn't find sufficient benefit to their communities to justify the expenditure.

"Kudos to the District of North Cowichan for putting this (new) monetary amount forward, but quite bluntly, it does nothing for the south," Mill Bay Director Mike Walker said.

Cobble Hill Director Gerry Giles, meanwhile, was swayed to support the project due to the new number.

"I was going to have a great deal of difficulty supporting the ($609,000) recommendation we have before us — in fact, I couldn't have supported it," she said.

Based on the CVRD's weighted vote structure, the decision to contribute $293,000 to the visitor information centre — through short-term borrowing to be paid back over five years — was carried in a 32-13 vote.

Opposed were directors Mike Walker, Bruce Fraser, Ian Morrison, Mary Marcotte's alternate Rob Waters, Pat Weaver and Tim McGonigle.

Ranjit Dhami, president of the chamber of commerce that will be housed in the new centre, was relieved to have a decision from the board.

"That was a surprise to me, absolutely a surprise to me," he said of the revised figure. "But we have to make it work, and that's the end of it."

The regional visitor information centre will be constructed in the parking lot of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre, fronting the Island Highway.

A proposal for additional funding for gateway info centres to the north, south and west was not addressed at this time.

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