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

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Survey: more than two-thirds support sewers
by Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror October 1, 2003

A phone survey shows 76 per cent of people residing in the proposed specified area are in favour of the District of Sooke's proposed sewer project, but Mayor Janet Evans said Monday night unless there is a drastic change residents are headed to the polls Dec. 16.

The survey, which also showed people are worried about the system's cost, was recently conducted by Victoria's Venture Market Research Corp. at a cost of $8,500. The concept was to get an idea of people's understanding of and feelings about the proposed $17.4 million system for the downtown core and such areas as the Broom Hill subdivision. The result seemed to be people want the system to happen as 42 per cent, in one of survey's early questions, strongly supported the system and 34 per cent "somewhat supported" it.

Sooke government watchdog Gail Hall asked council if the rumour she had heard that if the survey results were favourable the council initiative method, similar to a counter-petition, would be used was true. This idea had been suggested in a News Mirror editorial Sept. 24.

In a Tuesday interview Evans said prior to the survey she had told some local businessmen that she would be willing to bring the issue back to the table if approached by council members, if she thought it was appropriate. She said this was not attached to the survey at all. Evans said at this time she feels it is too late to reconsider the referendum.

The council initiative had been favoured by Sooke's first governing body and Evans herself, along with councillors John and Marcus Farmer, voted against a motion for a referendum earlier this year.

Council and the public received a two-page handout of "survey highlights" via the mayor's list Monday night. Evans said a more complete analysis and data of the survey, which included 308 specified area residents, will arrive for council later this week.

Coun. John Stephen remarked he was surprised by what the survey showed were the effects of price on how people felt about the system. According to the survey highlights a lower price tag means more support.

"If we can do anything to bring the cost down, we should," Stephen said.

Of the 16 per cent of those surveyed who opposed the proposed system, 54 per cent said they were against it because "taxes will be too high/it will make owning a home too expensive/too expensive to hook-up." Thirty-three per cent said their current septic system worked well and there was no need to change.

As far as negative issues associated with the system, 54 per cent of residents identified installation costs/higher taxes. According to the highlights information, this was significantly higher than all other potential issues, including the impact of the outfall system on the ocean (15 per cent).

It has not been set out in bylaw form yet but council has discussed making hookup to the system mandatory. This would require a one-time fee for connection and pumping out the existing system and filling it with sand. This cost would vary by property. According to the survey, if this cost could be financed over a number of years, the level of strong support rises to 47 per cent. District of Sooke staff has asked various lending institutions for ideas on how this could be done and a few letters outlining options such as adding it to an existing mortgage have been received back.

The estimated annual fee of $650 or less seemed to have a strong effect on support. When survey respondents were informed of this cost, just 30 per cent strong supported the system and 30 somewhat were behind it.

A number of councillors said they were surprised by responses that showed the feeling of a lack of knowledge about the project. Coun. Lorna Barry was shocked 79 per cent of residents said they were at least somewhat aware of the system and just 23 per cent thought they were very aware. Evans was surprised only 32 per cent could estimate the percentages for the Canada-B.C. Infrastructure program grant received for the system. The $11.6 million grant is split by the federal and provincial government with the municipality picking up the other third of the proposed project's cost.

"As we know, the public is starving for knowledge and we will try to get it to them," Evans said, encouraging people to attend the district's planned open house Nov. 3.



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