Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Sewers questions dominate all candidate’s forum last week
By Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror, June 11, 2003
Sewers were clearly on the minds of the about 150 people attending the Sooke Harbour Chamber of Commerce’s all candidate’s forum last Thursday night.
While a variety of questions were posed to the four mayoral and five council candidates, how public consent would be gained for the project and how it would affect people seemed to capture the most attention.
"What will you do to ensure people didn’t lose their properties," an emotional Glenn Dickie, who lives in the preliminary specified area, asked the council candidates Ron Dumont and Jeff Stewart to applause. Both candidates had served on Sooke’s first council, which initiated the project. Dumont and Stewart explained there will be payment plans available.
"I don’t think anybody is going to lose their home," Dumont said to the crowd at the Sooke Legion.
Jen Smith, a Broom Hill resident, was also concerned about the cost of the $17.4 million system for which Sooke has received an $11.6 million Canada-B.C. Infrastructure grant. Under the way the proposed project is currently set up only those in the still being defined specified area served by the sewer system would have to reach into their wallets for it. Smith, who also lives in the proposed specified area, asked the council candidates if they would support a different formula for funding the project, possibly with the entire district paying for it. Moderator Rod Sluggett, the chamber president, asked for a yes or no answer, and though some wanted to qualify their answer, they all said yes.
Another big topic regarding sewers was the consent process. The first council considered using a council initiative which has been defined as a counter-petition. Property owners would receive packages detailing the cost of the project to them and if they were against it they would return papers indicating they were opposed. Both the mayor and council candidates were asked if they would support a referendum for the specified area instead.
Mayoral candidates Bob Clark, Lori Messer and Jerry Wolf all said they felt a referendum was needed. Council candidates John Stephen and Ben Filgate agreed.
"A referendum is the only way to carry out justice fairly," Stephen said.
Mayoral candidate Janet Evans and council hopefuls Stewart and Dumont all served on the first council. They all said Thursday they supported the petition method. Stewart said it would be cheaper, while Dumont said it was the most fair way as it would be the property owners and not renters who would have to deal with the new costs. Stewart did say he was not opposed to a referendum if that was the will of the council of the day.
Council, in 2001, had discussed using a weighting method in which it would take 50 per cent of the property owners with 50 per cent of the assessment to stop it.
However, acting Sooke mayor Marcus Farmer said in an interview last week he was not adverse to the weighting idea not being removed, but said he could not speak for council. Evans said she would like to see the weighting removed so it is one property, one vote, which she said was the most fair.
Sooke government watchdog Gail Hall questioned if it was possible under the Local Government Act to strip out the weighting system. Sooke administrator Tom Day said in a Friday interview that according to the municipal solicitor that it can be done.
When the topic did drift away from sewers a number of interesting things came up, particularly during the mayor’s portion of the evening.
Al Jones said there is currently no real economy in the community and asked the candidates if they would hire a full-time business development officer. Clark said he is an advocate for economic development and favours hiring an economic development officer. Messer also supported the idea as she said it is hard to continue to do all the work with volunteers as economic development commissions in the area have mostly in the past. Wolf said he would see if it was needed.
Evans noted that economic development is one of the duties of municipal assistant planner Sabina FooFat.
"I think that it’s the government’s role to provide the infrastructure so that business can come in and stimulate the economy," Evans said.
East Sooke’s Joan Coates asked the mayoral candidates if they would support building a bridge from Billings Spit to East Sooke as it would provide another way in and out of the community and would allow greater access by those across the water to Sooke’s businesses.
Wolf first said he wasn’t sure Billings Spit was the right place and suggested possibly Whiffin Spit. But he said maybe two bridges would be appropriate. Clark feels another bridge is needed over the Sooke River and wondered if a private organization could organize a ferry between Sooke and East Sooke. Evans said she appreciated East Sooke residents’ desire to shop in Sooke but wondered if the matter could realistically be done because of the cost, alluding to the figure of $6 million that had been thrown around. Messer said she had many questions about the idea.
During the councillor candidate question portion Sooke firefighter Jon Utz said if there was a fire during the day only four firefighters would likely respond. He asked what the candidates would do to address the problem or go about resolving it.
Filgate was very emotional about the issue.
"We have to bring some more people in or we are going to pay the price and pay it dearly," he said, while the others complemented the department and its volunteers and said they needed more information.
Fire chief Bob Kelsey, in a Monday interview, said the department at times does have a low turnout but said it is not critical. He pointed to incidents where volunteers will respond to calls at 3 a.m. when they have to work at 7 a.m. the next morning.