Strong feelings expressed as council gives first, second readings to sewer system bylaws
by Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror October 29, 2003
Coun. John Stephen seemed to bring out strong feelings at a Monday night Sooke council meeting when he once again voiced his concerns about the way the district allowed private property owners to "buy" their way into the proposed sewer system's specified area.
This fall district allowed property owners located outside the proposed specified area to become part of it by paying for 100 per cent of necessary costs for their parcels, including expanding the treatment and collection systems. This added up to $2.5 million. At an Oct. 20 committee of the whole meeting, Stephen wondered if council had the right to do this under the Local Government Act. In response, Sooke administrator Tom Day said advice had been sought by the municipal solicitor and it was viewed as 100 per cent legal.
However, Stephen questioned the legality once again and cited what he felt was a related example from the District of North Saanich. After a brief explanation by Day of how North Saanich's and Sooke's situation varied, some councillors strongly expressed their frustrations about how the issue was brought up and the frequent questioning of their administrator.
Eventually, the bylaw was given first and second reading, along with four others relating to the proposed sewer system. At times Monday's meeting felt like deja vu as council rehashed the recommendations it made regarding sewers while sitting as a committee of the whole Oct. 20.
Buying in questioned
In regards to properties buying into the specified area, Coun. Lorna Barry said she was getting tired of people questioning whether Day was leading council down the wrong path. She said the administrator has the right to and does check with the municipal solicitor when needed. "I don't think we were idiots when we hired Mr. Day. ... I have yet to find he has given us wrong advice," aid Barry, who was a member of Sooke's first council, which hired Day.
Day said Stephen brought forward his information about North Saanich at about 4:30 p.m. Monday, which is when the office closes for the day. Barry said this was unfair to council and staff and asked Coun. Stephen to bring forward his information in a more timely matter before.
Barry, Councillors John and Marcus Farmer and Mayor Janet Evans voted to give the bylaw first and second reading while Stephen and Coun. George OBriain raised their hands against it. Coun. Tom Morino was absent.
Stephen's example from North Saanich was regarding a situation where a property owner paid for a sewer system pipe to be run on an easement to his property and council decided to reimburse him $5,350. Day said himself and municipal engineer Gary Smirfitt were able to contact North Saanich late Monday and learned the situations of that municipality and Sooke were not comparable.
When contacted Tuesday morning North Saanich municipal engineer Jack Parry said, in his opinion, the case in his municipality was "irrelevant" to what Sooke was going through. He said, after a 15-minute explanation of the ins and outs of the specified area situation, that it boiled down to a feeling of fairness on behalf of council and not a legal issue. Parry said council felt that if it put the pipe to every other property so people could hook up, then this landowner shouldn't have had to pay for it. The engineer noted the cheque has yet to be written because various items are still being worked out.
During Monday's Sooke council meeting Stephen asked for the word "voluntary" to be removed from the bylaw concerning areas buying into the specified area. The councillor argued it certainly wasn't voluntary. "If you want the stuff, you have to pay," he said. "They have to pay."
Day later explained it could be seen as "voluntary" as if you want to be in you pay and if you don't want to be included, you don't pay. By that time, council had already gave the necessary readings to the bylaw. Coun. John Farmer, who had moved first reading of the bylaw, agreed to the change as he didn't "want to argue semantics." Stephen said that wasn't his intent either.
Discussion focuses on mandatory connection
Later in the meeting Stephen and OBriain once again made their views known on the issue of mandating connection to the system.
Stephen said he feels the unknown cost of hook-up could be a financial hardship to some people and others have recently paid for expensive systems that work just fine. "I think we are alienating council from a larger number of people in the community who can't afford it or don't want to hook it up," he said.
Each property owner in the specified area will pay a parcel tax of $495. This is also the rate for a single family equivalent and includes both capital and operating costs. Properties with "multiple uses" will be charged the parcel tax and a sewage generation charge. The generation charge is based on a table of multiples related to use. For example, a single family dwelling with one suite would pay based on a multiple of 1.7.
Stephen argues 60 per cent of the parcel tax is used for capital costs and he said if people opted not to hook-up they could pay $307. He feels the finances would work out because if they are not connected they are not causing an increase in operating cost.
But Evans disagreed. "The numbers don't work if we do that," she said., though she stated all of council is certainly sympathetic to the cost burden the system could possibly place on some people.
During Oct. 20's committee of the whole meeting, Day brought forward a report stating a number of reasons why he didn't recommend mandating connection. Among the reasons were the goal of eliminating sewage from ditches, that it would make revenue unpredictable, those connecting would be subsidizing those who didn't and those people voting in December wouldn't be assured of a cost before they vote.
Council gave the bylaw regarding mandatory connection first and second reading with Stephen and OBrian voting against it. OBriain said he feels the district hasn't fully explored all of the options available.
Before the vote on the issue, Stephen alleged this is the second initiative he has backed that council has ignored that he worries could affect the referendum. He said he wants to see sewers happen, though he is not promoting them. The first initiative Stephen was referring to was his desire for the district to investigate the option of tertiary treatment as opposed to secondary more fully.
But Marcus Farmer referred to not having enough information on tertiary treatment as smoke and mirrors. "There is no doubt in my mind that tertiary is more expensive and unnecessary."