A Sidney councillor expressed disappointment with North Saanich’s use of public funds, drawing push-back from North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr.
Coun. Sara Duncan voiced the concern as Sidney approved additional funding for the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce to help maintain public washrooms under its care.
“The only thing that I am a little bit miffed about, even though it is a very small amount of money, is knowing how much Sidney put forward to keep bathrooms open, to keep washrooms open throughout the pandemic,” she said. “North Saanich, I feel did not contribute equally and when they got their COVID-19 re-start money, they said they had so much with so little infrastructure to have to maintain, that they were giving it away to charity. So I feel, may be North Saanich could have pitched in a little bit more for washrooms here.”
Orr said North Saanich did not receive a formal request from Sidney to make contributions for their efforts in maintaining bathrooms prior to COVID-19 restart funding.
Duncan acknowledged that Sidney did not make a formal request, but added that she did have informal discussions about the possibility of opening up washrooms outside the municipality.
This issue has also drawn to attention to the different approaches that the two neighbouring communities appear to be taking when it comes to using their respective COVID-19 relief money of some $2.75 million for Sidney and some $2.71 million for North Saanich.
Sidney council late last year agreed to use $650,000 of its grant to make up lost revenues and costs incurred in 2020, while tentatively setting aside $550,000 to maintain 2020 tax reductions for 2021 with a final decision to be made at 2021 budget deliberations. Council will consider how to use the rest of the grant during 2021 budget considerations.
North Saanich council received a report in late 2020 that found that the pandemic did not “significantly” impact service levels and revenue streams compared to many municipalities in the region that operate recreation centres and have increased costs related to supporting vulnerable populations.
According to the report, pandemic-related expenses eligible for grant funding totalled $100,878 with an updated figure to be made available during 2021 budget discussion. North Saanich subsequently donated $50,000 to the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank and set up a granting process that would allow charities serving vulnerable populations to access some of that money.
“While that is fine and laudable, definitely, this (washroom issue) was an example where that money could have been used for something that is what it was intended for, as a municipal service,” said Duncan.
Katie Kroeker, president of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said North Saanich “after several requests” provided funding to meet the COVID-19 standard of twice daily cleaning at a cost of $1,200 per month after the washrooms had closed for two months. That funding expired at the end of 2020 and the organization has since asked all three municipalities for additional support.
Orr said earlier that North Saanich could take up that request as early as Monday’s council meeting. “I don’t think North Saanich will have any hesitation in terms of council’s point of view supporting ongoing contributions to the facility in 2021,” he said. “So I don’t see this being any issue whatsoever.”
He also defended North Saanich’s approach around the relief grant. “To suggest that all of that funding, because we have a different infrastructure situation, is all going to charity is not a correct assumption,” he said. “We haven’t even decided yet the amount out of that. And it’s not necessarily going to charity. It’s going to vulnerable populations that are supported by non-profit societies.”