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?
The mayoral candidates speak to the issues on page 25 and the council candidates state their views on pages 26, 27.
1. In-camera meetings were designed to help councils work through issues that might prejudice the interests of the district. Personnel issues, acquisition and disposition of property and litigation issues are examples of in-camera requirements. Council has an obligation to report the decisions made in-camera in certain cases and in a timely manner. On the acquisition of property, once the decision is made, there is no further need to protect that information. Council should “rise and report,” in other words, tell the public what is going on.
Council needs to use the in-camera process but it must be used sparingly and not just used to discuss and make decisions outside the public eye. Council needs to clearly define their rationale for the use of in-camera meetings.
It is perceived that this council is not open and transparent. They appear to use in-camera meetings more than necessary. Council is extremely slow to release in-camera decisions that should be made open to the public.
2. We have had a 65 per cent increase in taxes over the past six years. Our current council voted 5-2 in April to increase taxes by 27 per cent over the next five years based on a four per cent growth rate. This could jump as high as 38 per cent if growth is only two per cent as predicted. This is not acceptable nor is it sustainable for the average family or business.
We have to have a philosophy that as a district we need to live within our means. We have to carefully examine each of our expenditures and ensure that we are spending money on something we need and that it is not just nice to have. This requires careful spending through balanced decision making. We cannot continue to hire more staff and spend more money on capital expenditures for equipment. Council and staff need to set an example by reducing expenditures on travel and conferences. We have to start doing things differently
Yes, I feel spending is out of control.
3. The first consideration should be land adjacent to the current system. The public in these areas should be encouraged to petition the district for inclusion if that is their desire. Any expansion of the sewer has to be cost effective and ensure that the existing sewer users are not burdened with any further cost increases.
4. Agriculture and food security are issues that need to be addressed. The Official Community Plan recognized this and called for the creation of a farmers’ market to enable our citizens to sell or acquire affordable nutritious local food. John Phillips Memorial has large open spaces that would be suitable for this purpose and should be considered.
5. Yes, taxes are too high and it is discouraging new business and equally as important those tax levels are close to driving existing business away. In our current financial situation I am not sure we can reduce taxes but I believe we can stop the spiralling increases in order to give business a chance to catch up.
1. In-camera meetings are a requirement of the Local Government Act, Section 90. It is in this venue that local governments deal with land, labour and legal issues. When an issue has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, council will Rise and Report, and the issue that was under discussion will be reflected, or the details made available in a media release, as examples.
I believe the District of Sooke council, given the parameters of the Local Govcnrnment Act and the Municipal Charter, is open, is transparent. It is important for the members of council when they swear an oath to formally take office, that they respect the democratic decisions of council, and the ‘open and closed’ council meetings procedures.
2. A local government is required to have a five-year plan for their budget. Management staff reports to council on a regular basis. The plan can be subject to change – as building revenue goes up or we experience a shortfall, as examples – and the budget is adjusted accordingly.
As one member of council out of seven, I would be a participant in the budget planning, and a steward for effective, sustainable use of our public funds. I would ensure the audited facts are the basis for discussion and response to questions from the general public. The budget-setting process is open to the public, is transparent, and is a management staff and council collaborative approach. The District of Sooke is not bankrupt, and spending is not out of control.
3. With the defeat of the recent 21-year deal with EPCOR, expansion of our Sewer Specified Area will be more challenging. Long-term planning and budgeting on the part of DOS and EPCOR to allow for the expansion is now no longer a certainty. Expansion to the EMCS/Kaltasin peninsula area would allow for two more schools to be connected to the SSA, the probable development of a business park concept in the area behind the high school, and go a long way toward the eventual restoration of shellfish harvesting in the Sooke Harbour and basin areas by our T’Sou-ke Nation neighbours as a traditional food gathering method.
4. John Phillips Memorial Park has the long-term potential to become a ‘green’ asset of our downtown area. Native plants and trees could be planted and protected, and an expanded trail system, connecting to the greater Sooke area trail grid, could be accessible, enjoyed by residents and visitors of all ages and a gathering point for enjoyment or contemplation.
5. The District of Sooke has been working hard in recent years to reduce the gap between the residential and business tax ratio. In a comparison of 15 communities of a similar population size across British Columbia – seven of which were on Vancouver Island – Sooke was the third lowest of those 15 in 2010. I am confident our professional staff will continue to work toward a community that is receptive to businesses locating in our community and providing local employment.