At the first all candidates meeting, hosted by the Sooke Community Development, those who attended had the opportunity to ask questions of the council hopefuls. The answers to the public’s questions were answered in alphabetical order.
A question posed to mayoral hopeful Dave Bennett in regard to how he would build on the previous work of council was answered with the statement that Bennett would work with staff and council to continue working on projects to see them through.
When asked if he would be willing to have a performance and fiscal audit, Bennett remarked that since the province will soon have a municipal auditor general that would suffice.
Wendal Milne responded by saying that he would go forward not backward.
“I don’t think a new council should look at what the old council has done.”
To other questions about the increase in staff and increasing taxes Bennett said he would be the steward of public funds.
Sheila Beech said she was proud of the staff and they had kept the staffing levels lean, and they did a very good job.
Bev Berger stated council had to look seriously at the economic downturn and the repercussions.
Moonfist-Myke Colbert said he would keep asking questions until he got the answers.
Ron Dumont said he thought the district worked very hard to keep the budget down and because the staff went union council had no control.
Herb Haldane, in response to budget control, said the current CAO was the highest paid in all of the communities with a similar population. He said the statement that Sooke had the third lowest taxes was in fact erroneous as the sewer, water and other billed services were not included and were extra on top of the property taxes.
“In fact we’re third highest,” he said,
Rick Kasper said he would not allow backroom deals or contracts awarded without going to tender. He said the district signed over $6 million in untendered contracts and if there was a reduction of only 10 per cent this could go a long way. He also wanted to see a true working finance committee and public scrutiny in everything.
“We’re in serious trouble,” he said.
Terrance Martin said he had never seen so much sole sourcing. He said the bottom line has to change and one way could be the CRD requisition. He also wants to measure staff performance.
Wendal Milne stated that it was important to see what was going on in the world and we couldn’t live in a bubble.
“We don’t need to increase staff if we’re not growing. People can’t stomach tax increases, it’s just not on.”
Careful spending was necessary, he said.
Jim Mitchell wants to get finances back in line and reduce property taxes. He wondered why the lights were being changed at city hall to the tune of $50,000.
“Council goes madly on spending money,” he stated.
Kevin Pearson said fiscal responsibility and a good look at contracts was necessary. Setting and measuring expectations of productivity should be looked at.
Kerrie Reay said responsible and accountable spending was a way to make a big difference and that we needed to differentiate what we need and want in the community.
Shaunna Salsman spoke of fiscal restraint and the need to spend each dollar cautiously.
Maja Tait said council needed creativity, communication and a sharp pencil. She wondered why there was such a disconnect between council and the community. She wondered what needed to be done to encourage people to attend meetings.
“We need to repair the relationship,” she said.
Questions about priorities in regard to downtown congestion, and a bypass route were answered by the two mayoral candidates and each of them said the Ministry of Transport was in charge of that particular stretch of highway.
When the council candidates were asked what could be done to attract business and what kind of businesses the responses were:
Bennett: eco and cultural tourism, promotion of the Pacific Marine Circle Route, the triathlon and attracting industry;
Beech: a business park in the town core.
Berger: post-secondary education or satellite office from Victoria.
Colbert: commercial to alleviate tax burden of residential and basically what council is doing.
Dumont: large contractors who can take on large projects and light industrial.
Haldane: businesses and facilities based on retirees. Plan for a retirement community because families can’t afford to live here.
Kasper: said we should be thinking outside the box. Hire Sooke businesses and people for projects.
Martin: Access to market analysis and a cultural planning process. Culture is a business as is education and recreation. He said there is no reason for technology to be here.
Milne: Sooke needs affordability and a vision. Stop studies and start doing and look at the service industry. “Make it easy and inviting for people, otherwise they won’t stop here. Block by block start doing something.”
Mitchell: Get taxes down.
“With our limited population it won’t support a lot of businesses but we can make it the best bedroom community around.”
Pearson: Affordability of property and affordable housing.
“People will come and business will follow,” she said.
Reay: Dialogue between business and the chamber of commerce and local consultation.
Salsman: Marine sciences, supporting the agricultural sector and green business. Cut the red tape.
Tait: Natural abundance attracts people. We have community-based tourism, the Slow Food Cycle, triathlon, etc. and we need to find other initiatives that draws people out to Sooke. Health and educational services.
Gail Hall asked the candidates if they would support the Prestige Hotel deal which now costs the district $821/day. All said ‘no’ with the exception of Bennett, Beech, Colbert, Dumont and Tait (with community consultation).
Other questions were in regard to fire department spending, smart meters, conflict of interest. The hopefuls also had a number of suggestions on how to get more public input and these included such things as: more time, time to speak at the end of meetings, an open mike session once a month, open houses, cameras in council, change to chamber configuration, email, comment box, more informal atmosphere, a newspaper column, web casting, and a change in timing for receiving the agenda.
Dave Bennett and Wendal Milne were asked what they would do to stop the bickering seen in the last two councils.
Milne answered first by stating that he had the ability to bring people together. Listening and leading by example were necessary qualities.
Bennett said he was listener and worked to consensus and that council needed to respect and honour the decisions made.
The next all candidates meeting is on November 8 at 7 p.m. at Edward Milne Community School theatre.