View Royal is considering two more seats around the town’s council table as it deals with a growing population.
“We’re the largest municipality in B.C. to have a council of five,” Mayor David Screech said Thursday.
Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the issue, including the costs and process of adding two councillors, at an open house Nov. 15 at the town hall, and via internet link. Council expects to make a decision the following evening.
View Royal has more than doubled in size to about 11,829 residents over the past two decades, said Screech.
He would like to see the councillors added prior to next October’s civic election. “I see it as an important issue,” Screech said. “It gives us greater diversity in council and more varied opinions. Having those different ideas and notions around the table is really important.”
Screech noted this year View Royal council was short by two members over extended periods. “We had a quorum, but we had to deal with some really important issues,” he said.
Although View Royal rejected an expansion of council in 2002, based on public push back, Screech said he’s seen little opposition this time. “It’s so hard to read at this point,” he said. “I haven’t had anyone express great concerns. I’m hoping it will be a positive outcome.”
A staff report to council in September said costs associated with adding two councillors would mean an increase in the town’s annual operating budget of $44,300. Each council member is paid $22,150, which includes expenses for conferences and education. The report said a one-time cost of $50,000 would be required to alter council chambers.
The Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria called View Royal’s proposal “political inflation.” The advocacy group said the South Island has 17 jurisdictions — including 13 municipalities, three electoral districts and the Capital Regional District as well as multiple police, fire and other services.
“As if 91 local politicians aren’t enough to govern 425,000 citizens on the South Island,” said John Treleaven, chairman of the advocacy group.
“Taxpayers are struggling with an escalating cost of living and unaffordable housing,” he said. “Efficiencies and controlling costs should be a priority for council, not adding to them.”
The staff report said keeping council size at five — four councillors and the mayor — would continue “concentrated representation” as the population continues to grow with no additional representation.
“Surely there has to be a threshold and to me we’re there,” said Screech.
The mayor said council is not seeking city status, which can be granted via the Local Government Act once a community’s population surpasses 5,000.
That process would give View Royal two extra councillors, but require a referendum.
Treleaven wonders if the proposal is being fast-tracked without full conversation with the taxpayers.
Most municipalities in the Capital Regional District have seven members on their councils. The exceptions are Saanich (population 114,148) and Victoria (85,792) — both with nine-member councils — and Metchosin with five members (population 4,708).
According to 2016 census data, there are 52 municipalities in the province with five-member councils, and of those 23 have populations of less than 1,000, twenty-seven have populations between 1,000 and 5,000 and two have populations greater than 5,000, including the town of Qualicum Beach at 8,943.
There are 20 municipalities with seven-member councils in B.C. that have a smaller population than View Royal as well as eleven municipalities with seven-member councils that have a comparable population.