With around 700 municipal bylaws on the books, it’s difficult for the District of Sooke to enforce every one, says Mayor Maja Tait.
Last year, Sooke’s lone bylaw officer investigated 250 complaints.
But is Sooke well served with its present bylaw policy?
Council watcher Gail Hall doesn’t think so.
Hall said the bylaw officer and council members don’t go out looking for bylaws being broken, so unless someone makes a complaint or brings it to council, they likely wouldn’t be aware if one was broken.
“We do have bylaws. But do we ever see them enforced? Rarely,” she said. “I’ve seen many cases where people have complained, and council did nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time council has been upfront with a bylaw.”
Fellow council-watcher Ellen Lewers agrees: she’s been bringing complaints to council about the property next to hers for the last 11 years.
“I’ve called the bylaw officers and brought it to council I don’t know how many times, and nothing has ever been done,” said Lewers, adding the business looks like a scrap metal yard, and has big trucks coming in and out of the property every day. As a result of the extent of this operation, it has impacted our serenity, our enjoyment of house and home, and the resale value of our property.”
Tait couldn’t speak to Lewers’ complaint due to legal implications.
Council looks at different ways to get people to comply to bylaws, Tait said.
She explained that for some bylaw complaints that have come to council, such as parking, people dumping garbage, or people not picking up after their pets, it’s difficult to enforce because those people have to be caught in order to fine them or do something about it.
So in certain scenarios, council looks at different ways to get people to comply to bylaws.
“Parking is more top of mind now, we are taking it heavily in to consideration when we look at areas to be rezoned and developed,” said Tait.
She highlighted another complaint council received often about people stuffing bags of their household garbage into bins around town, so council just decided to remove the bins and they haven’t had a problem with it since.
“But once a problem gets better it can always come back. The few people that were dumping their garbage are probably just dumping it somewhere else,” said Tait. “In some cases, we just don’t know how to solve the issue.”
For a complaint to come to council, it’s generally supposed to be a “last resort” option.
District staff try to resolve bylaw issues by assigning it to the officer or fire chief, but if a person isn’t satisfied with the result, that is when it is usually brought to council.
For complaints related to noise, burning, or wildlife, the RCMP, Sooke Fire Rescue and Capital Regional District tend to do the enforcing.
“Everyone has the right make a delegation at council, but it is definitely our goal to solve the issue at a staff level before it gets to that point,” said corporate officer Carolyn Mushata.
Tait said the availability of staff is a concern, because with the growing population, the number of complaints grows with it.
Another bylaw officer is expected to be hired later this year, which Tait predicts will help address complaints and increase bylaw enforcement.
“We only have one bylaw officer right now, so if they get sick or go on vacation, we have no one. Having a second officer will help greatly in that sense,” said Tait. “But I think there also needs to be more education around bylaws for both staff and the public.”
Hall points out a new bylaw officer won’t help because they aren’t utilizing the one they have now.
“What’s the point of a bylaw if they aren’t followed? Under the current council, a new officer won’t help. We don’t need another bylaw officer, we need new governance,” she said.