Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.

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Residents pose countless questions about sewers

By Robin Wark, Sooke News Mirror July 8, 2003

District of Sooke residents and business owners appear to have countless questions about the communityís proposed sewer system.

During the first of two slated committee of the whole meetings on the subject Monday night the district had scheduled an hour for public input and comments. But after 60 minutes there were members of the audience, which included about 45 people, who still had queries or comments for council and staff. Coun. George OBriain recommended, and council agreed, to extend the public input period and to meet again Tuesday night to hear more from the voters. Mondayís session went about a half hour longer and Tuesdayís was held after the News Mirror went to press.

While some questions were answered Monday night, other could not be and Mayor Janet Evans said answers will be brought back to the community in August or September. No representative from EPCOR Water Services Inc., the firm Sooke has selected as its preferred partner, were in attendance. Some audience members said they wished technical experts had been invited as their questions could not be answered immediately.

Many of the questions asked Monday night were similar to ones raised at other meetings on the topic.

Coun. John Farmer, who chairs Sookeís sewer committee, said there are various reports available that may answers some of the publicís questions. Coun. Marcus Farmer emphasized council and staff is willing to do what it can to answer the publicís questions at all times and not just during a meeting.

The questions posed Monday ran the gamut from the cost to taxpayers for the proposed $17.4 million system to the specified area it would serve to the treatment process. About 20 people spoke at least once and some submitted questions in writing to council. Some had many questions. For example, Fred von Ilberg passed onto district staff a list of 26 questions he had about the project.

Among the concerns expressed Monday night was the cost. The district has said the annual cost to taxpayers will be $650. This includes a tax to cover the capital cost of the project and a user fee. One unidentified Sooke resident questioned if this was too steep.

"How are you going to make these people in your community feel if they canít live here anymore?"

Evans and John Farmer said it is a concern and work is being done to try to offset that.
"We intend to explore every possible way we can to ease the burden of expense," Farmer said.

Some audience members were concerned about the cost of acquiring land for the treatment plant. Sooke has received an $11.6 million Canada-B.C. Infrastructure Program grant for the project and the district will pay for the final third of the cost for the project. But the cost of the land acquisition was not eligible for the grant. Administrator Tom Day said land acquisition will be paid for by property owners in the specified areas through the $650 yearly fee.

Diane Bernard questioned why those in the specified area must pay for the cost and why the burden canít be spread out over the entire municipality. Von Ilberg said he feels the cost of acquiring the land will be far more than what can be covered in the $650 yearly cost.

Day, in a News Mirror interview, declined to say how much has been budgeted for land acquisition out of concern for the process.

Evans said it has not yet been decided where the plant will go. She was also asked if the district would consider expropriating land if it canít purchase it. The mayor said she hopes expropriation wonít happen and couldnít answer whether council would consider it.

The public was also curious if there was a timeline for the grant. Day said the district has yet to receive a contract for the grant, which was announced in late May. But he expects the project would have to be completed in three to four years.



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