Election 2011

Each of the candidates for Sooke council respond to five questions

Each of the candidates running for District of Sooke council were asked the following questions. Their responses are, for a change, in reverse alphabetical order.

1. What are your thoughts on in-camera meetings? Is council open and transparent enough?

2. How would you control municipal spending? Is it out of control?

3. Where should the sewer be expanded to first?

4. What should be done with John Phillips Memorial Park?

5. Are the commercial property taxes too high and is it discouraging new businesses from coming to Sooke?

Maja Tait

1.  In–camera meetings are a necessary and oft-employed  function of routine municipal governance. Approached correctly under the provisions of Section 90 of the Community Charter, the meetings may only deal with land, legal, and/or labour issues. Accordingly, this tactfulness may reduce the district’s exposure to frivolous legal action. Unfortunately, those who do not accept this notion use the concept of in-camera dialogue to spawn conspiracy theories.

2.  Municipal spending should be guided by a very basic premise and litmus test which asks, “Does the municipality as a whole benefit from this decision?”

A sound rationale warranting the verdict is essential and consensus seeking over confrontation will often dissuade the waste of valuable resources (eg. threats of litigation as opposed to spirited debate).

3. The current “sewer specified area” (SSA) as designated by the OCP has the capacity that it can be expanded through infill development. Fiscal prudence would dictate that these readily accessible opportunities be maximized before expanding beyond the SSA.

4. Feedback regarding this matter as received from constituents indicates a preference for simple amenities such as allotment gardens, picnic tables, a fenced off-leash dog area and the like. A formal visioning exercise could promote similarly complementary ideas. Full scale development of this natural parcel would be most unfortunate.

5. The business to residential tax ratio has been declining since 2008 to approach the provincial ratio of 2.45 (Sooke’s ratio in 2011 was 2.9) with the support of both council and staff. Provided this strategy is adhered to, Sooke’s commercial property taxes should not pose a major deterrent to prospective business investment.  What will discourage commercial interest is a perception of perennial in-fighting and distrust amongst council, staff, and stakeholders.

Shaunna Salsman

1. Direct democracy, community politics and grass root movements are the essence of true democracy and are ideas I truly believe in. By using an interactive website, town hall meetings, open mics, being approachable by creating a non-intimidating atmosphere and listening to our community associations, taxpayers will be, a valuable resource in the decision making process. In-camera meetings lack transparency, giving the misconception of inappropriate transactions and hinder public involvement. This needs to be avoided as much as possible.

2. A succession of misguided choices and lost revenue has our current council plagued with problems. Fiscal restraint alone will not bring Sooke’s taxes under control, sending large expenditures to tender, assessing and evaluating all bids; will ensure good value for every dollar spent.

3. Where should the sewer be expanded to first?

There are many questions regarding our sewers, expanding it is not a priority of mine.

4. Put up a sign and encourage events.

5. Taxes are high for Sooke, not only does it discourage new businesses but hinders established businesses that have been devoted to our community. People are over taxed, over regulated and under appreciated.

Kerrie Reay

1. The use of in-camera meetings is regulated by the Community Charter under Sec 90.  Generally speaking, the only use of this process is for council to discuss issues of Land (around issues the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements) Labour (usually relates to labour relations of staff) and Law (usually around litigation that the municipality is involved in).  Anything outside of Sec 90 is not allowed by law. Given comments I have heard door knocking and have read in Letters to the Editor; it would appear that community members feel that council should be more open and transparent.

2. I cannot speak to whether or not council spending is currently out of control.  I understand that municipal over spending is considered to be an issue across B.C. One of the first orders of business of the new council should be to review the current budget and commitments made for spending. The review must measure how that spending will occur in relationship to current taxes and proposed increases.  The District of Sooke is a business and should be managed as a business.

3. Unfortunately, I think the whole issue of the Sooke sewer system is a very complex and complicated issue, that appears to have created division in the community and I do not feel that I am properly informed to comment. I do see an opportunity for this council to independently review the options that would be considered in the next round of negotiations that would provide assistance to the elected council of 2014 on the EPCOR contract.

4.  I think this piece of property if properly developed and maintained as a park would be a central green space to the core area of Sooke, connected by walk ways to a developed town centre.  The park would be a place to draw local families for outings or picnics, for children to play, for seniors to meet and for leisure walks.

5. Being unfamiliar in this area, I canvassed a number of commercial owners and heard, overwhelmingly, that their commercial taxes have more than doubled in the last five to seven years.  They also are very concerned with the probability that the commercial taxes will continue to rise to address municipal spending.  They are frustrated by inequities of the commercial rates to other communities and the anticipated rise despite a weak local economy.  With the lack of commercial space and tax rates, it would suggest that this certainly could be a deterrent to new business coming to Sooke.

Kevin pearson

1. In-camera meetings should be used sparingly where there can be very open dialogue without the fear of opinions being judged. At this point the notion seems to be that council is not open enough

2.  I would control spending by analysing every cost line by line and put forward the opportunity for improvements by way of suggestions and careful review. Again it appears the spending is out of control.

3. I think the question should be first asked why expand? We have a lot of undeveloped land in the existing sewered area.

4. It should be maintained as green space until the greater need comes into play, there are many alternatives that this land could be used for in the future. We don’t need to make hasty decisions

5. Commercial taxes are too high and it is not only discouraging it is preventing  businesses from considering Sooke. With low foot traffic and a user unfriendly access, in many cases, the tax structure needs to be more in line to support economic development.

Jim Mitchell

1. In-camera meetings should be eliminated.  The public should be encouraged to attend council meetings so that they are kept informed. Council has not been open in the past. There have been too many backroom deals and this has cost Sooke taxpayers a lot of money.

2. Sooke’s spending is presently out of control. They are already spending funds from the 2012 budget and they are paying additional funds to EPCOR when they do not yet have these funds budgeted. Every expenditure that Sooke is presently making will have to be reviewed in  order to  eliminate the wasteful spending.  I have looked at the financial statements and budget and know that we can eliminate more than  $2 million in expenditures. We need a strong council to tell staff how the district is going to be run in the future.

3.  The sewer system cannot be expanded at the present time as there is simply no money. Before we even consider expansion we will soon have to resolve the problems  with the present system such as the undersized and inferior pipe that has been installed.

4.  John Phillips Memorial Park is a jewel in the centre of our town. It could easily be developed to provide proper tennis courts and other facilities. It is flat and has plenty of room for parking. We should consider selling off Ed Macgregor Park as this was a bad idea from the start and it has cost a lot of money needlessly and it will continually cost a lot of money to maintain. This park has no easy parking and it is on a steep hill. The funds from the sale could be used to  properly develop the golf course property and it shouldn’t cost the taxpayers anything.

5.  All taxes are too high in Sooke. Sooke council seems to think that we can create many new businesses in Sooke out of thin air.  You just have to look around  Sooke and ask why there are few new businesses. When the commercial taxes are sometimes seven times what the residential tax rate is, then it is not feasible for a new business to locate in Sooke. We simply do not have the population to support  many small businesses.

Terrance Martin

1. S. 90 of the Community Charter defines meetings that may or must be closed to the public. William Buholzer, legal expert on the Community Charter and retained as the district’s counsel, states, “The complexity of the procedure evidences the strong Legislative preference that councils turn their minds to whether and to what extent excluding the public is actually warranted.”

I believe that individuals controlling the current council have abused the discretionary power for personal reasons, to the detriment of community morale and trust, and that in-camera meetings should with very rare exception be reserved for those matters that must by statute be in-camera.

2. I would control municipal spending by implementing a line item audit of the CRD requisition, district financial plan, and discretionary practices, and subject spending to cost/benefit analysis. I would not base budgets on future growth projections. Spending is out of control because these practices are not implemented. Forming a dependency between spending and growth projections necessarily puts spending out of control if growth projections are not met, as is the case.

3.      The  sewer should not be expanded until in-fill of the current service area occurs, unless developments have sufficient density and value to properly capitalize the total lifecycle cost of the development, including capital upgrades to the entire sewer system when capacity is reached on existing plant.

4. The future of the park is already decided in the Parks Master Plan, incorporated into the OCP. The suggestion that it should be returned to a golf facility is a good one.

5.  Yes, and yes. Consumers pay taxes, not businesses, and the notion that residential taxes can be reduced by shifting the tax burden to business is nonsense. That simply forces taxpayers to pay taxes through local business, easily avoided by shopping elsewhere. The only sustainable way to reduce taxes and balance between residential and commercial taxes is to increase the residential tax base so that consumer demand supports business sufficiently to justify shifting some taxation to profitable business. The difference between success and failure in a small town business can easily be the amount of property taxes imposed, and the entire community is the poorer when a business closes.

Rick Kasper

1. A cloud of secrecy seems to exist at council meetings now. Special interests are being looked after, but not the taxpayers’ interests. We need to bring back transparency in council decision-making, so decisions are made in the best interest of the community as a whole, and restore trust in our local government. Give residents and taxpayers more of a voice and really listen and act on what they say are priorities. Keep in-camera meetings to a minimum to deal with those things that municipalities are obligated to deal with in camera – land matters, personnel matters, and solicitor-client information that directly relates to protecting the municipality.

2. Voters are saying they are disillusioned with the way council has been operating. They have lost trust with our local government because of too many long-term contracts with no tender, and money going to things that they don’t feel are priorities. The real issues – like improving the downtown area and making it more attractive – are not being acted on. We should focus spending on priorities for Sooke residents, eliminate wasteful spending, get back to basics and ensure we get the best value for tax dollars.

3. If the sewer is to be expanded, this work should be done in the core area, in particular those properties that are next to the existing sewer service area and are designated for development expansion, as identified in the Official Community Plan.

4.  Four years ago, when I was on council, the district completed a public consultation process and a plan based on recommendations from local residents on what to do with this property. What happened to that plan? This was a good example of hearing from the public about what they wanted to see. That plan should be resurrected and completed.

5. When I served on council from 2005-2008 we made provisions to adjust commercial tax rates as commercial development expanded. So, as commercial development expands, existing businesses should see a reduction in tax rates. As well, we need to make sure that any shift to lessen commercial tax rates should not be done at the expense of residential taxpayers

Herb Haldane

1. In-camera meetings should only be used in extreme cases and for reasons outlined in the community charter. Our CAO and corporate officer need to go back to charter school because they keep many issues from the voting public. In-camera is used as a tool by the mayor to keep the public from understanding what we are up to. This is exactly why the budget and taxes are so high. I am against in-camera for any reason but I am willing to follow the Community Charter. The hotel, the boat launch and the sewer agreement were all done in this clandestine way. We only told the public about these issues after all the decisions were final.

2. To control spending I would rescind the bylaws passed to allow senior staff the ability to spend up to $75,000 without any permission.This bylaw is why we have benches and advertising made in Langford instead of Sooke. Our administrator spends the money on anything he wants without oversight. We have no tender process if they choose to waive it. We need an audit on all senior staff wages and benefits if we want to bring this spending under control.

3. I would not expand the sewer until the EPCOR contract has expired or we have taken over the plant.The present contract is too high and the service is in trouble with huge warranty issues coming.They will not use a camera on the system because it will uncover gravel and water leaking in. The system needs repairs first.

4. As for John Phillips we have little or no money to do anything. We should sell some in order to create a park area around the pond. It is on a busy route for commercial traffic.

5. Commercial taxes are out of control and there is no help in sight. We need a smart mayor with some experience in leadership and business.

Ron Dumont

1. In camera meetings are a requirement under the Local Government Act and Community Charter Act. They state that issues on law, labour, and land discussions be in-camera.  When we sign the oath to become a councillor, we promised to uphold the Acts. Allowing the above-mentioned  information into the public is against the law and could cause the district to be liable to be sued.  This could cost the taxpayer enormous amount of dollars for insurance and payout. The council has made every effort to communicate with the public via coffee gathering with individual council members, newsletters, center net, news releases, and  meetings every Monday night.

2. Each year the council sets the budget for the next year and these meetings are open to the public. We are also required by law, to provide a five-year budget plan for the province. The future spending and savings are set in this budget. Our budget must be balanced and must show revenues and expenditures to be as real as possible.  We do our best to have a savings plan for unforeseen costs or for future plans. For example large snowfalls. My opinion is that we are not over-spending.

3. The next area for sewers should over the Sooke River Bridge towards Kaltasin Road area as it is the cheapest per household to install sewers. Sewers may also include First Nations lands. These areas of land need to be on sewers to protect our environment of Sooke Harbour and basin.

4. John Philips Memorial Park should be continued as a park with the hope to improve the use of the land for recreational purposes.

5. Commercial property taxes may be too high but we have worked to reduce taxes as more commercial lands are developed.  Many other efforts are being made to town center to encourage business growth.

Myke “Moonfist” Colbert

1. In-chambers (camera) meetings are a part of the way things are done. Council is very open, even to the point of learning how to be more open in a way that is best for all.

2. Directed question… It’s not out of control.

3. At this point I would need to sit with district staff and EPCOR to make a true and proper determination based on wants, needs and locations.

4.  The most we can! As long as we keep some of it for park and trail.

5.  Commercial property taxes are a reality and things have to add up to make sense. To a certain point it is cheaper for people to maintain distance costs instead of new tax burdens, then it becomes more cost effective to pay tax burdens when business picks up. These are choices and permanent realities. People and press moaning is what discourages new business.

Bev Berger

1.  No, I feel our current council has had far too many in-camera meetings. I definitely understand the need for in-camera meetings when it relates to Section 90 of the Community Charter, however, as a council we should be consulting with the public every chance we get.

2.   Yes, I have personally voted against all of the municipal budgets over the past three years. I feel that we could be far more fiscally responsible. As we all know, we are still experiencing an economic down turn, and during this time our decisions should be made with a common basic business approach. It’s time to asses the community’s Needs vs Wants.

3. Currently our sewer system is operating at about half of it’s capacity, so personally I don’t see the need for expansion. I would like to see us utilize the current capacity we have, before spending millions of dollars to expand it.

4. This is a tough questions. Being a local Sooke girl, it’s easy to say that we miss the golf course, however that decision was made by the previous council and there is nothing we can do about it now.  As for the future of John Phillips, I’d like to see the space utilized more, possibly some sports fields or even community gardens with a larger farmers market?

5.   I believe they are. Unfortunately we have started to become a bedroom community and having that name tag means that our tax generation comes solely from our residents and our local business community. I would like to see the next council work closely with the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Economic Development Commission to find out how we can better promote our local businesses. I personally feel that if we as a municipality can foster a better working relationship with our local business and set them up for success, then they will in fact succeed.

Sheila Beech

1. In-camera meetings occur when  labour, land or legal issues need to be discussed in private. Some in-camera issues are never released to the public but efforts are made to release the information if at all possible. Councils do not try to hide information from the taxpayers but sometimes it’s important to keep private the rights of our citizens before dealings have been finalized. Council will be as transparent and open as necessary while protecting the district, council, staff and our citizens.

2. Municipal spending is not out of control. Nor are municipalities allowed to have their spending out of control. Each department has its own budget to keep balanced. Changes can be made but it’s important for council to be aware of the changes.

3. Hopefully sewers will be able to go somewhere now that funds may not be as available financially. My wish is that sewers go to Kaltasin soon as that area us still environmentally compromised.

4. Four or five years ago John Phillips Memorial Park had a committee that made decisions for the design of the park. Money was an issue then and now. I would like the plans to move slowly. Sooke is a creative town so being patient to really consider the future of the park would be a good idea.

5. Commercial property taxes have been high but the district has been lowering the business taxes. Businesses are coming to Sooke in spite of the downturn but our businesses are struggling. The chamber is starting a “Shop in Sooke” initiative which would help the stores through the rough times. I encourage the Sooke citizens to support the Chamber of Commerce.