Sooke council urged to ‘pick away’ at projects

As district nears city status, chief administrative officer tells council now's the time to prepare

The secret’s out: Sooke is well on its way to becoming a city, but with it comes a series of challenges – and costs.

In her latest budget report, Teresa Sullivan, the District of Sooke’s chief administrative officer, touched on the white elephant in the room – growth that would force sewers, roads, infrastructure, police and fire services to meet city standards.

Sitting at just over 13,000 residents, the 15,000 mark is not far off.

“If we continue with the growth we’re hitting right now, it’s likely we will hit city status. That will probably cost us over $450,000 in policing,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan told Sooke council that it’s important for the mayor and council to pick away at projects they can finish before the next election.

“I encourage mayor and council to pick off those projects that will have priority for our community, but also be doable in the next two years. The list of strategic priorities right now is quite long,” Sullivan said.

District service levels will also see significant strain, as Sooke’s growth will automatically feed demand and consequent need in the coming years.

“We’re a growing community, we have increased demands, we have a sewer system that’s near capacity and we need to start making decisions now on the expansion, whether you support that and where, because it’s going to take us two years to get there,” Sullivan said.

Pressing repeated issues are roads in dire need of repair or replacement, the dramatic increase in calls for service, as well as safety issues for kids going to school, notably, lack of sidewalks or safe walking paths.

“I don’t want to wait two years for a decision, because then we’ll be hanging out to dry in respect to providing services to our community,” Sullivan said.

The area’s growth rate was above the national growth rate of five per cent, while the population of B.C. increased by 5.6 per cent. The Statistics Canada census indicated Sooke ranked No. 2 in growth among Island municipalities. Langford was No. 1, with growth of 20.9 per cent.

The growth pattern in Sooke and the West Shore communities is a surprise to few.

“There was a sense, we were going to see growth,” Mayor Maja Tait said, adding in the last year there have been records set in building permits, developments and home sales.

“We knew there was going to be higher numbers than the norm.”

With the next census due in 2020 and significant projects and improvements on the list, the road to a bigger, better Sooke is long.

“We need to plan now for four or five years out because we don’t want to hit everybody with a huge tax increase,” Tait said.

– with files from Kevin Laird