The current council came to office in December last year. In those seven months, we have listened to taxpayers and are working to set the community on a new course for the future.
Growth in the District of Sooke has slowed in comparison to previous years. We expect some improvement in 2012, however we continue to hear that we need to be cautious in all areas of spending. Businesses and families are struggling to keep up with rising costs. Council believes a sustainable community must be affordable, we will continue to make careful decisions related to spending, while ensuring you have the services expected in a thriving and livable community.
Here are some of the ways we are working to meet the commitments of more openness, transparency and accountability:
• We established a new committee system to bring more openness and transparency to council decisions. New volunteer members from the public have been added to the committees providing a wealth of experience and expertise. All budget and other committee meetings have been held in public and we continue to welcome public input.
• The Finance and Administration Committee created a budget that is sustainable and forward looking with a zero tax increase for residences and a decrease for businesses of about one per cent in the municipal portion of your taxes. Council asked staff to find reductions and with their work and creativity we found cost savings while maintaining or enhancing services in all departments.
• The Land Use Committee has introduced a number of amendments to zoning bylaws to create more affordable housing and encourage growth in the core area.
• The Economic Development Commission has brought together various groups from the tourism, arts, culture, business and non-profit community to work together on common interests and goals with a more focused vision for economic development.
• We are reviewing all of our services, to make sure we are as efficient as possible and getting the best service for your tax dollar and expect to report on our findings over the coming months.
• We are looking at our financial reporting to ensure responsive and improved information for council, staff and the public.
• We have negotiated cost savings for a major contract issued before we came to office. We are pleased to report that we have worked together with EPCOR to find savings in their annual costs of about five per cent. This will amount to about $50,000 a year in cost savings, or more than $200,000 over the contract term. We appreciate the work of our service providers in their offers of savings to the community and we continue to review other contracts.
• We hope to build more sidewalks on Church and repave Maple Avenue to make these routes safer and more attractive.
We are looking at the Grant-Throup connector and the possibility of a traffic circle in the centre of town. Both of these projects have been delayed as the property acquisition that is required to complete these projects was never completed. We are working with the landowners and believe we will reach a successful conclusion.
Councillors Kasper, Tait, Haldane, Pearson, Reay and Berger have been working hard with staff, spending countless hours on the various committees and meetings to make things happen. Our focus over the remainder of this year is to continue our vision of openness and sustainable spending for Sooke while moving the community forward. To do this we need to continue to receive your input and feedback as we make decisions going forward.
Wendal Milne, Mayor