Fire Chief Kenn Mount reviews the fire department budget with a Sooke resident at an open house last Wednesday. (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

Public weighs in on Sooke municipal budget

Homeowners face 6.58% tax hike

The average Sooke household can expect to pay an extra $100 this year in municipal property taxes – an increase of 6.58 per cent.

Information about the proposed budget was presented to the public last Wednesday during an open house at Municipal Hall.

“We need to create opportunities for the public to come out and speak and share their thoughts [on the budget],” acting mayor Jeff Bateman said.

RELATED: Last year’s budget added 7.17 %

Bateman is interested in hearing feedback on a number of items that, while identified in this year’s budget, may end up being deferred to coming years.

“A good example is the Whiffin Spit memorial wall that’s in there for $50,000. In our online survey, we asked people what they thought about it. Maybe we’ll find that it’s something people want to defer until a future date in order to lower the tax increase this year.”

Raechel Gray, Sooke’s acting director of finance, said one of the challenges facing the municipality is that some of the budget’s line items are not readily visible to the public.

“We have three new staff positions, for example, and that’s always controversial, but we need those positions to provide the services to the community that they expect and deserve as Sooke continues to grow,” Gray said.

Sooke is the second fastest growing community on Vancouver Island and the fifth fastest in B.C. The CRD has predicted that by 2038 Sooke will have a population of 24,000.

“Those unseen benefits of a budget are always a challenge, but we need to set the stage to prepare the community for that growth, Bateman said.

Not everyone who attended the budget open house was pleased with what they saw.

“First off, a better format would be to have a budget presentation followed by a question period. In this format you have to go around and talk to staff (from each department), and you start hearing the same things over and over,” Norm Amirault, a Sooke resident, said.

All Jones, another longtime resident, felt the budget proposals were out of touch with what taxpayers want.

“I’d like to see some of these people (staff) actually go out and talk to people. I don’t think they’re putting the money in the right places,” Jones said.

Other residents, however, seemed satisfied the budget proposals are reasonable.

“I’ve never seen a period when we’ve had such growth and changes in the community,” Richard Phillips said as he left the open house.

“They seem to have a handle on things.”

Sooke’s budget includes a number of capital projects and purchases.

“We are buying fire engine No. 3 at a cost of $400,000, for example, and we’re on year three of a five-year road improvement plan for another $700,000. [Electric vehile] chargers are in there for $212,000 and Otter Point sidewalk improvements, the Mills Street connector, and, yes, the memorial wall are in the budget,” Bateman said.

“We want people to provide input on those items most important to them as well as hear from people about things that are not in the budget but which should be considered.”

To further gauge residents’ opinion, the District of Sooke has an online budget survey.

The overall expenditures for next year will be $22.5 million. Last year’s budget increase was 7.17 per cent.

Municipal staff will present a draft budget to council Feb. 3. The budget deadline for final approval is May 1.

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Laura Hooper, the head of parks for Sooke, explains the department’s budget to a resident at the district open house last Wednesday. (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

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