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View Royal council narrowly votes to add two new councillors

The annual cost of adding two councillors will be about $44,000, along with a one-time cost of $50,000 to remodel the chambers for the extra seats.
View Royal Mayor David Screech says increasing council size from five to seven will help bring new blood to the table, including more women. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Residents of View Royal will have a bigger ballot in October’s civic election.

In a 3-2 vote Monday night, council gave the green light to a bylaw that will add two new councillors for what Mayor David Screech called “more voices and fresh ideas” for the growing municipality.

View Royal, which has seen its population more than double to 12,000 since 1988, has been the largest community in the province operating with a five-person council.

“Injecting new blood into our decision-making is what’s important here,” said Screech.

The mayor noted View Royal council has long been “80% men, 20% women” and diversity is needed. He said three members, including himself, have held seats for two decades.

Councillors John Rogers and Ron Mattson opposed the decision, and brought a motion to put the question of increased council size onto the municipal election ballot this fall.

But that was defeated by Screech and councillors Damian Kowalewich and Geri Lemon. The deadline for increased council seats on this fall’s civic ballot is April 15. A referendum question, if successful, would delay increasing the size of council until 2026, said Screech.

Rogers said the majority of the roughly 100 people who weighed in on the issue were in favour of the current council size. In an interview Wednesday, he said having one politician for every 1,700 residents is “far too rich for our community” when a municipality like Saanich has one politician for every 10,000 residents. “We’d be pretty top heavy.”

Adding two more councillors will also stretch out council meetings, he said. “I try to encourage people to run for office, but they say that’s too long, you don’t get paid enough. You really have to have a volunteer perspective if you’re running for council.”

The annual cost of adding two councillors will be about $44,000, along with a one-time cost of $50,000 to remodel the chambers for the extra seats. Rogers suggested the money would be better spent on hiring new staff to handle View Royal’s growing number of development proposals and greater demands on public services. Other urgent needs include a new RCMP building and covering increasing costs to hire and retain staff and retrofit city hall to accommodate them.

Screech, who said he will run again for mayor in the Oct. 15 election, said the cost for adding councillors is “a red herring,” accounting for a 0.2% tax increase this year and next.

He said although two open houses on the issue did not attract many residents because of COVID-19 safety issues and inclement weather, a letter was sent to every resident in View Royal asking for feedback. “I think the public trusts council to do what it thinks is right,” the mayor said.

Screech said he’s personally going to push residents to run for council. “I’m going to go out and talk to people to encourage them to run. In particular, I think we need women to run,” he said.

Most municipalities in the Capital Regional District have seven-member councils.

The exceptions are Saanich (population 114,148) and Victoria (85,792) which both with nine-member councils, and Metchosin, with five councillors for its 4,708 residents.

According to 2016 census data, there are 52 municipalities in B.C. with five-member councils, and only two have populations greater than 5,000.

There are 20 municipalities with seven-member councils that have smaller populations than View Royal, as well as 11 municipalities with seven-member councils and comparable populations.

The Town of Qualicum Beach is considering increasing its council size from five to seven. Public feedback on the issue is expected to be revealed at a committee of the whole meeting next week.

Qualicum Beach has floated the council-size issue twice before — in 2008 and 2014 — but both times it was shot down in a referendum on the civic ballot, with nearly three-quarters of residents opposed.

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