Questions arise as Sooke staff delivers budget amendments

But Sooke mayor says report a step in the right direction

The District of Sooke can do a better job of relaying financial information to local taxpayers, says Mayor Maja Tait.

But, she said, municipal staff took a giant step forward this week when it introduced a bylaw amendment to the district’s five-year financial plan.

“How we communicated the report could be improved going forward,” Tait said.

“You could argue, we could have left it hidden and no one would be upset because no one would know, but that’s not the right thing to do.”

It’s the first time in recent memory that council has seen a budget amendment months before budget deliberation begin. Council usually starts budget planning in January. A final document must be completed by early May.

The budget amendments came to council on a staff initiative and Tait hopes to see them on a more frequent basis.

But local council-watchers Ellen Lewers and Gail Hall questioned that there was not enough time to review the material, calling the bylaw report insufficient.

“There isn’t anything clear here, and I would like answers,” Lewers said.

Finance director Brent Blackhall said the proposed bylaw, which received three readings Monday, is a budget amendment and not a new budget.

“We’ve already done the tax levy. We can’t go back and do a new tax levy,” he said.

“This is really about communicating to the community about what’s going on.”

During the last year, council made several decisions that affect the budget, including cancelling the EPCOR contract, bringing the parks department in-house, hiring a security firm and new equipment for the fire department.

Any new budget expenditures were paid by building permit revenues, which have increased substantially this year.

Coun. Ebony Logins and Kevin Pearson were pleased with the budget update.

“It allows us to work out all the kinks before we get to the actual budget process,” Logins said.

Added Pearson: “It’s timely. We can now start looking at money in real time.”