Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Sewer system dominates Sooke Meeting
By Robin Wark for Sooke News Mirror, November 6, 2002
Dunbar, as the clapping strongly indicated, is correct, but the matter of dealing with sewage certainly dominated the event held by the Sooke Harbour Chamber of Commerce upstairs at the Sooke Legion. The debate on the issue started during the mayor’s portion of the program, which kicked off the meeting, and continued when the 11 candidates competing for six councillor positions took to the long table at the front of the hall. There were about 150 people in attendance."I think it is nonsense for some to proclaim a sewer system is not needed in the core area," incumbent mayor Ed Macgregor said in his closing remarks. No candidate argued with Macgregor nor did any step forward against Sooke having sewers, but the process and the cost of sewers were the hot topic of debates. The district has selected EPCOR Water Services Inc. as its potential partner and has pared down the price of the system to about $17.5 million. An application for a Canada-B.C. Infrastructure program grant is still being processed. If approved the federal and provincial governments will each pay a third of the cost applied for, with Sooke ponying up the rest. George Butcher, the chairman of Worried Residents Against Rate Hikes in Sooke, asked both Macgregor and his competitor, Jerry Wolf, and the council candidates if they would support a community-wide referendum on the sewer system. The method the current mayor and council is on record as supporting involves concerned residents in the specified service area writing in to express their dissent on the project. All six current councillors — Lorna Barry, Ron Dumont, Janet Evans, Marcus Farmer, John Farmer and Jeff Stewart — and the mayor stated they feel the process they had agreed to in the past is fair and should be used. "The whole idea is those who are going to be asked to pay for the core area system will be voting on it," Macgregor said. Council candidate Tom Morino questioned how all the minds on council could agree.
"That is unusual in the extreme," he said. Challengers Mel Dobres, Morino, George OBriain and Norm Upton all said a community-wide referendum is needed. OBriain went as far as to label the system the current council planned to use as "outdated, unfair and almost futile." Wolf and council candidate Rick Armour both said they feel the residents in the specified area should be voting. However, Wolf said he feels the specified area should be asked first and the rest of the area later on. In arguing for their proposed system, members of the current council said it would allow a great deal of specific information to be given to residents. "They will know what it is going to cost and what options are available to them," John Farmer said. Morino wondered why this couldn’t be done even during a Sooke-wide referendum.
"Why can’t we send the package and then have a referendum?" Members of the current council have stated sewers are needed to clean up the Sooke Harbour and Basin. OBriain wonders why the current council did not focus its energies on cleaning up storm water discharges into the basin and harbour or putting in strict septic system maintenance regulations. Current council members, as well as Armour, a chamber of commerce director, have said sewers are also needed for economic development and for beautification. But Upton, who spoke passionately about the issue, is worried sewers won’t help Sooke because he feels without road upgrades more residents will just increase the congestion in the town core. He feels this will hurt small businesses, such as his drycleaning operation, because it will be an increased hassle for commuters to do their shopping and errands in Sooke. "More people means just more people," he said, speaking contrary to the argument that sewers will help businesses. Upton feels Grant Road should be pushed through to Throup Road, as shown in the district’s new Official Community Plan, to allow for another traffic route. "I think in doing the sewers before we do the roadwork we are putting the cart before the horse." His passion seemed to impress Morino, who noted the pair are not running mates.
"Norm has ... a real fire in his belly," Morino said. "Those are the kind of people we need on council." Audience members also seemed concerned about the cost of the project. Macgregor said at about $600 a year in a tax increase it works out to about a cup of coffee a day. Upton was noticeably upset by this remark. "I am telling you at the end of the year, when you get your tax bill, you will are going to need more than a damn cup of coffee to get over that one," he said. OBriain, Morino, Upton and Wolf have all said in past interviews with the News Mirror they are concerned about the cost to the taxpayers. Dorothy Burrus, vice-president of Branch No. 88 of the Old Age Pensioners, said during the mayor’s portion of the program Monday night that there are seniors in the community worried about not being able to deal with the increased cost. Macgregor said there will be mechanisms in place to help residents deal with the tax hike, which he said will be outlined if a grant is approved. Wolf passed on his opportunity to address the issue. But Barry said she feels it is cheaper to do the project now instead of waiting and seeing the cost increase. Dobres, the local Liberal riding association president, said he has been using his connections in Ottawa to help Sooke land an infrastructure grant. However, Morino said he has concerns about the provincial government possibly not living up to its end of the deal and coming through with the necessary funds.