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

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Residents pump experts for sewer information Monday
By Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror November 5, 2003

Experts were on hand Monday at the Sooke Community Hall to pump out information about the proposed sewer system.

A variety of questions were asked at the afternoon and evening sessions of the open house hosted by the District of Sooke, which was attended by an estimated 300 people. Experts on topics ranging from sewer systems to financial matters were on hand to answer questions. One of the topics that piqued curiosity was pumps, according to Sooke administrator Tom Day.

"It's something most people aren't really familiar with," said Tony Brcic, an engineer with Stantec Consulting who fielded a number of questions about pumps Monday afternoon.

After the News Mirror went to press Tuesday, Sooke council held a meeting in which presentations from technical experts in regard to the system were to be made. Council was also expected to take input and questions from the public.

About 300 pumps will be required for the proposed sewer system, which goes to referendum Dec. 13. The pumps are needed for areas where the service exiting the building is lower than the collection pipe that is installed in the road right-of-way. Brcic said in most cases pumps are needed for houses located on the low side of the road, where it just costs too much to install a gravity-fed system.

The pumps will be purchased by the district, but they will become the property of the property owners. The property owners will be responsible for the cost of installation as well as future maintenance and replacement of the pumps.

Brcic said many people were concerned about the operation and maintenance of the pumps. The pump systems include a collection canister that stores the material up until a certain level and then it will automatically be pumped to the collection pipe. Property owners will be responsible for the electricity needed to operate the pumps. This cost has been estimated to be an average of 69 cents a month, according to a fact sheet supplied Monday by the district and EPCOR. EPCOR is a private company Sooke has chosen to partner with for the project. The sheet stated this compares to a television costing an average of $2.52 a month for electricity or a water heater $19.50.

The pumps are expected to operate between 10 and 15 years before major maintenance or replacement is required. Brcic emphasized pumps have been used successfully in projects in the Western Communities and are actually a part of some on-site septic systems.

The engineer said it appeared many people wanted to know more about the pumps.

"Once you explain everything about them, they seemed a lot more comfortable," Brcic said.

Many questions

Of course, cost was also a major topic of discussion. A Canada-B.C. Infrastructure program grant of $11.6 million was received for the project, which has a price tag of more than $17.4 million. Under the infrastructure program the federal and provincial governments and the municipality pay a third of the project's eligible costs.

Property owners in the specified area will pay a parcel tax of $495 annually. This covers both operating and capital costs. Owners of what are called "multiple use" properties will pay a sewer generation charge on top of the $495 based on a multiple system. For example, owners of bed and breakfasts and people with a suite will pay more than a single family equivalent homeowner.

Property owners also have to pay for the cost of connecting their property to the sewer system. This cost will be different from house to house because of such variables as the distance from the road and the amount of rock on the property. Homeowners will able to choose which company it wants to have install the system and Mayor Janet Evans said people might be able to save some money by doing some work themselves.

Chew Excavating is one of EPCOR's partners and is also one of the companies people can choose for connection. The company has estimated connection for systems without a pump will cost $120 per metre for excavation, pipe and connection, but it can vary.

In regard to cost, Evans said she has had a number of people approach her concerned about the assessment of the value of their homes. She said they are telling her B.C. Assessment personnel have visited and informed them assessments will be going up. Phone calls from the Sooke News Mirror to B.C. Assessment did not elicit any concrete numbers and representatives said it is hard at this time to make any blanket statements about increases.

Evans said some homeowners have expressed concern the assessment increase would cause a rise in their tax bill and with the charges for sewer on top of it make for a perhaps unmanageable load. But the mayor said people should remember growth and the mill rate also factor into a tax bill. She said the district is committed to keeping the mill rate low so large increases do not happen.

For example, Day said assessments went up eight per cent this year, but the district dropped its mill rate three per cent. This allowed for the five percent increase Sooke had planned on in its 12-year plan to accumulate funds for taking over policing and highway maintenance costs in the future.

Voting concerns

The question of exactly who can vote was also raised a few times at Monday's open house. Sooke clerk Bonnie Sprinkling said the district receives numerous phone calls daily from people who are wondering whether they are in the specified area and if they can vote in the Dec. 13 referendum. The district encorages anyone with questions to call them at 642-1634.

Anyone over the age of 18, who has resided in the specified area for at least 30 days prior to the referendum, is eligible to cast a ballot Dec. 13 if they are also a Canadian citizen and have been a B.C. resident for at least six months.

People who don't reside in the specified area, but do own property there also might be eligible to vote. They must have owned the property for at least 30 days before the referendum, be a B.C. resident for more than six months, and be a Canadian citizen over 18 years old. If more than one person is on the title for the property, written consent of the majority of the owners is needed for one person to vote. Only one owner is entitled to vote as a non-resident property elector.

Corporations do not have a vote in the referendum. If a corporation is on title with other people, none of the people on title is eligible to vote as a non-resident property elector.
To save time and hassle for voters on Dec. 13, the district is urging people to register to vote before the referendum. People can register at the municipal hall before Nov. 28 or Dec. 13 at the Edward Milne community school, where voting will take place.



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