Sooke rescinds bench letters, offers apology

District sent out letters asking $2000 for maintenance from those who purchased memorial benches

Sooke council apologized Monday night and agreed to rescind controversial letters demanding renewal fees for memorial benches in Whiffin Spit.

Council will also re-examine its memorial dedication policy early in the new year.

“I’m very sorry for the heartache and the hurt that is resonating through our community,” Mayor Maja Tait said.

In August two benches on Whiffin Spit were found to have severely rusting legs and needed to be removed for safety reasons, according to a staff report. Further inspection of all benches found most of the 26 benches at Whiffin Spit were past the 10-year commitment.

Letters were sent to donors in October and November to pay a $2,000 renewal fee. The letter asked people who bought a memorial bench to submit the money by Jan. 31 to “maintain the bench,” or the plaque will be removed and placed elsewhere.

Sooke resident Brandy Rittaler received one of the letters.

Rittaler said $1,600 was raised in 2006 to buy a bench in honour of her mother, Judy Jamieson, who died 11 years ago.

She decided to contact the district about the renewal policy, and found that she had bought the bench before the policy was implemented, and was never made aware of the price increase.

“It feels to me like a heartless money grab,” Rattler told Sooke News Mirror online last week.

“They have caused more grief and confusion during a time of year many of us struggle with already.”

She said district staff were “very apologetic” when they got in contact with her, and are working to find a solution to the issue.

“I understand that the parks and benches need to be maintained, but I just think the whole thing could have been handled better and they could have given people a warning that the policy had changed,” Rittaler said.

“I’m hoping the community will come together and find a better way to manage the policies for the future.”

Along with the public apology from Tait and other councillors, the district will also write a letter of apology to those who received letters asking for renewal fees.

One person has made the $2,000 renewal payment, the district confirmed. The money will be returned with an apology and an explanation.

Council is also looking at spending $50,000 for the design and construction of a new memorial at Whiffin Spit Park.

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