Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Sewage System's Foes will Have to Petition District
Like the runoff from failing septic fields claimed to be polluting the harbour and basin, Sooke council has chosen the path of least resistance in its bid to build a sewage system for the Sooke village core.
Faced with three options of obtaining community consent, council has chosen the one that places the most onus on those who object to the proposed $16.4 million dollar project.
Sooke's mayor Ed Macgregor said rather than holding a referendum, which he had promised at an October public meeting, the project is now being declared a 'council initiative.'
As a council initiative, property owners within the area to be serviced by the sewage system are given notice of the increased taxes for the service. The onus is then placed on them to petition against the work within 30 days if they object to the work.
Unlike a referendum, which needs a simple majority of voters, to be successful a petition against a council initiative needs a majority of all property owners who also must hold 50 per of the total assessed value of the property within the area to be serviced.
A third option, a simple counter petition is far less onerous. If five per cent of the electors petition against a borrowing bylaw, the bylaw fails.
Macgregor said council decided to allow a petition against a council initiative instead of a referendum because it's "more certain of a process" and it's less costly than a referendum.
"If people receive all the information, and are in favour, they don't have to do anything," he said.
Macgregor said opponents will still have an opportunity to object.
"People who are affected are still given the opportunity to say 'yes' or no,'" he said.
As for the reason why he is reneging on his promise to have a referendum on the matter Macgregor said: "I said 'sure, a referendum,' but I didn't know the options at the time I made the statement."
Some are saying the deck is being stacked against the wishes of the public.
"They're reversing the process, and putting the onus on the public to say they don't want it," Sinclair Philip said. "It strikes me as being undemocratic. I'm very surprised, (that they're doing it this way), with council going on record saying there will be a referendum."
Gail Hall said it will be extremely hard for opponents to stop the project even if they are among the majority.
"It's not winnable. The problem is that you could get 50 per cent plus one of the owners to say 'no,' but they won't represent 50 per cent of the assessed value," she said, noting that commercial property owners and those with larger properties carry more weight in this method of consent process.
There are about 610 parcels, a mix of commercial and residential properties, in the site-specific area to be serviced by the proposed sewage system, according to Sooke administrator Tom Day. He did not know the residential to commercial ratio, but said the assessed value should balance out.
Another council decision which has critics like Hall raising eyebrows is that work that is oversized to allow for additional areas to be serviced in the future will be paid for by the community as a whole.
"It's taxation without representation. We have no chance to say no because we're not in the specified area." she said.
'I'm angry at the lies. They needed to be up front with us from the start. It's unacceptable," Hall said.
Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Cathy Watson said the petition against work proposed by council initiative is "very old legislation" and is under review.
However, Watson said the rules stand until the provincial government completes the review of sections of the Local Government Act pertaining to obtaining voter approval.
"I can't argue with the method they chose because it's law," Malahat Juan de Fuca-Malahat MLA Rick Kasper said. "It's okay as long as those who stand to benefit the most pay the most based on either assessments or flows or a combination of both."
Mayor Macgregor said the sewage study consultants will be contracted to determine the cost of building and operating the system and the taxation options and costs to users. That study is expected to be completed in June.
"They're looking at ways to allocate costs. Once that is figured out, the property owners will be advised with the information and have a month to respond if they aren't in favour of it."WRATH Commentary: