Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Public to be given chance to object to Sooke sewer planBy Shannon Moneo for the Sooke News Mirror September 26, 2001
Is Sooke council seeking consent or dissent?
On Monday night, Sooke’s council unanimously passed a motion authorizing start of a process where property owners would object to construction of a sewage system that would service the core/Broom Hill area of Sooke. The council was acting on a recommendation the committee of the whole made on Sept. 17.
“We have all the information for people to look at,” said councillor John Farmer, chair of the sewerage committee, at the Sept. 17 meeting. “The longer we go between the study and the consent process, the likelihood something changes.”
Sooke’s administrator, Tom Day, said project cost estimates, one area where changes could occur, are “based on eventual disposal (of sewage) to the Strait (of Juan de Fuca) after secondary treatment plus disinfection.”
The district of Sooke has budgeted $24 million for a sewer system to service Sooke’s core/Broom Hill area. A $16 million federal/provincial infrastructure grant has been applied for, but there has been no word yet if it will be given. The remaining one third cost of the project, $8 million, will be financed by the district via a levy only on the properties that are in the service area.
Day recommended that the public objection process be initiated as soon as possible. “Waiting for word on the grant ... that could be two years down the road,” he said. If it is determined the public is on side, it may bode well for the grant application. “We could use it as a tool to push for grant approval.”
Day expects all affected property owners (1,400 properties) will receive a mailout in October, explaining the project and costs. Those against it have 30 days to petition against the project. Day estimated the process would be complete by late November/early December and cost approximately $2,000.
The salient point of this process is that a majority of the affected property owners who represent more than 50 per cent of the assessed value of all affected properties have to register their objection in writing. Council is calling it a “consent process” but in reality they are seeking dissent.
“That is fundamentally undemocratic,” said Sinclair Philip, who was present at the Sept. 17 meeting. “The whole process has been flawed from the beginning.” He said a referendum should be held.
Philip said some people may be in favour of a sewage system but not in favour of an outfall. And for some residents, the costs will be a “very substantial part of their income.” He also wondered why the exercise was occurring when there’s no immediate likelihood of sewers.
Evans, mayor voice concerns
Councillor Janet Evans had a similar concern. She said that the public’s objections may have to be collected more than once if information, such as property values, changes.
That was echoed by mayor Ed Macgregor, who stated if the tender call for the project results in higher costs, “we’d be obliged to go back to the public.” Day said it would probably “trigger a recalculation,” but he was confident such a process was legal. “Our solicitors are comfortable with it,” he said, referring to the legal firm of Lidstone, Young and Anderson.
Cathy Watson, spokesperson for the ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services, said according to the Local Government Act, it’s up to council to decide when to approach property owners.
“And if it changes, the council can also decide to go back to the voters,” Watson said.
Costs to property owners will vary, based on the property’s use and assessment.
Two decades to pay off
Farmer said that it would take 20 years to recover the debt, so a single-family dwelling or vacant parcel in the service area would pay a annual “debt retirement cost” of $402 (for the 20 years of the debt) along with an operating cost of $250 (a permanent cost) per year, for a total of $652 per year.
There will also be hookup charges. Day said when the system is installed, the service line will be brought to the property line. It is up to the property owner to arrange for hookup. Depending on the distance from the service line to the house, Day predicted the maximum hookup cost would be $3,000. Much depends on the distance of the residence from the service line.
Philip said the cost could reach $15,000 for some properties to hook up and destroy the old septic tank and field, based on Langford experiences.
For commercial properties, such as a service station, the debt recovery cost would be about $3,300 per year (over 20 years) and the operating cost would be $2,075 per year (in perpetuity).
Land for development
Once Sooke’s septic fields are destroyed, a sizeable amount of land will be available for development.
“We want to contain our commercial services in a defined core,” Farmer said.
He stressed that freed-up land combined with a sewage system could make it possible for senior’s housing, townhouse complexes, homes and duplexes on smaller lots and resort-style accommodation.
“Do we want to accommodate that growth by building more duplexes alongside farms in Otter Point or do we want to protect rural areas by encouraging some higher density growth in the core area?” Farmer asked.
He added that the district will be considering a new subdivision bylaw which may allow for existing properties to be subdivided to provide “new housing opportunities.”