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Council favours referendum for sewer system

by Robin Wark, Sooke News Mirror July 8, 2003

Residents living in the specified area for the District of Sooke’s proposed community sewer system will likely head to the polls in the late fall or early winter to tell their municipal government how they feel about the $17.4 million project.

Monday night, council, sitting as a committee of the whole, directed staff, by a 4-3 vote, to prepare bylaws for a referendum, rather than a council initiative, to gauge public consent for the project. The bylaws will still have to be endorsed by council, likely in the fall. The specified area, as proposed, will include the village core and the Broom Hill development, but its outer boundaries have yet to be clearly defined.

The decision had been a hot topic in last month’s municipal byelection. Coun. Lorna Barry, who campaigned for mayoral candidate Lori Messer during the election, said she heard a lot about the issue before voters headed to the polls to vote for mayor and a new councillor. She said she didn’t meet anyone who was against sewers, but that the people she spoke to wanted an actual vote at a ballot box.

"Everyone thought that a referendum was the way they should make their wishes known," she said.

Barry voted in favour of what she heard, going against the counter-petition format she had backed as a member of Sooke’s first council. In theory Barry’s vote broke the deadlock.

Councillors Tom Morino, John Stephen and George OBriain all had strongly stated their feelings that a referendum was needed during successful campaigns in the past year. During the recent campaign, newly elected Mayor Janet Evans had said she favoured the council initiative. As members of Sooke’s first council, Evans and councillors John and Marcus Farmer had voted for the counter-petition. The Farmers repeated their votes Monday night. Before the vote on the referendum a motion to proceed with a council initiative, put forward by John Farmer, failed 3-4.

"I don’t believe that we are doing the public justice," OBriain said during council discussion about Farmer’s motion regarding a counter-petition.

One of the knocks against a referendum has been voters don’t come out in force. But Stephen said he doesn’t think there will be any apathy this time around. Himself, OBriain and Morino have all strongly stated they feel the people need a chance to speak on the issue.

Under the council initiative, property owners would receive detailed packages about how much the system will cost them. If they agreed with it, they would do nothing. If they opposed the proposed system and the cost, they would fill out and return the enclosed papers.

After hearing OBriain, Morino, Barry and Stephen speak during council discussion on John Farmer’s motion, Marcus Farmer acknowledged it was clear which way the vote would go. But the councillor said he still favoured the counter-petition method as he felt it asked the opinion of the people who would be spending the money.

In a staff report, administrator Tom Day recommended a counter-petition be used. One of the reasons he gave was that with a referendum owners of commercial property, some of which is owned by corporations, would not receive a vote but they would be paying a larger chunk for the system.

Marcus Farmer also said he felt the public had shown support for the system and the council initiative by twice in the past year electing a mayor who was pro-sewer and pro counter-petition. Last month’s byelection was caused by the March 28 death of mayor Ed Macgregor.

Ron Dumont, a member of Sooke’s first council, said during a public question and comment period Monday night that he felt the counter-petition gave people more opportunity to vote. He pointed out that during the process people would have about a month to send in their package if they wish rather than just on a specified voting day.

Using the method the first council had discussed it would take 50 per cent of property owners having 50 per cent of the assessed value in the specified area voting against it to kill the project.

Under the recommendation contained in Day’s report that weighting requirement would have been stripped out.

Day’s report stated the referendum would cost $9,000 more than the council initiative. However, he said the cost of the counter-petition, which would involve a large amount of staff time, had not been determined.

Also during the meeting the committee of the whole recommended council establish a specified area boundary policy, which was included in the meeting package. According to the proposed policy, which was drafted by district staff, the $11.6 million in funding received via the Canada-B.C. Infrastructure Program grant be attributed only to costs assciated with servicing the specified area according to proposal made by EPCOR Water Services Inc., the private company Sooke has tabbed as the preferred partner for the system. The policy also allows for the grant to be used for minor infall areas proposed by staff and confirmed by council.

Municipal engineer Gary Smirfitt said the boundaries have yet to be set in stone by bylaw and that there are still requests for people to be included in the system.

According to the policy council may authorize the addition of properties into the specified area. But the owner of the property must pay or provide an irrevocable letter of credit by Sept. 1 for all associated costs of upgrading the system to accommodate the projected flows from the property.



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