North Saanich council Monday approved $2,400 for washrooms operated by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, but not before some councillors criticized the chamber and the provincial government.
The funding comes in response to a letter from chamber president Katie Kroeker saying that the chamber would be forced to close washrooms near its offices unless the three Peninsula municipalities contribute $2,400 each for their maintenance. North Saanich officially joins Sidney in supporting the request from the chamber, while Central Saanich has also signalled its support.
While Coun. Heather Gartshore said she was happy to provide the money, she said she was also a “little ticked to receive the letter,” in challenging the chamber’s claim that North Saanich had eventually provided funding for the washrooms after “several requests” from the chamber.
“The request came to North Saanich council once, and after one request we provided the funding,” she said. “So you know, another time it might be nice to says ‘thanks for providing the funding, and by the way, we are also asking you for additional funding for cleaning toilets that don’t belong to you and aren’t even on municipal property.’”
Coun. Jack McClintock, the lone official voice of opposition, questioned claims by the chamber that closing the washrooms would hurt local commerce, focusing on a section of the letter making an economic argument for keeping the washrooms open.
It states that if “local tradespeople need to take a further 15 minutes out of their day to find a new washroom location, at a $60 per hour charge out rate, that would cost local businesses $3,600 in lost revenue per year per employee. If there are 100 tradespeople using the washroom each day, that is $360,000 in business revenue lost.”
McClintock said it is up to businesses (not the chamber) to provide washrooms for their employees.
Coun. Patricia Pearson broadly agreed with these comments, but also acknowledged the benefits of having those washrooms open. “I’m sure that the washroom facility is appreciated by many in the area,” she said.
Coun. Celia Stock pointed out earlier that the area is one of the entry points to Vancouver Island in framing the support as a matter of public health and safety.
Another looming issue concerns the role of the province as the public heard staff accuse the province of downloading the cost of washroom maintenance onto the municipality.
Mayor Geoff Orr said the province should pick up some of the cost, in pointing to the chamber’s application to make the larger area a designated rest stop.
Speaking to the Peninsula News Review after the vote, Kroeker said the chamber is “grateful for the understanding and timely approval of the funding request” from the three municipalities. “This funding is vital to ensure that our washrooms can remain open safely and in compliance with (COVID-19) cleaning standards.”
When asked about the comments by Gartshore and McClintock, Kroeker said “there were questions and comments posed by members of the North Saanich council that suggest we could provide supplemental information and we have reached out directly to address them.”
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