The District of Sooke’s advertisement addressing myths and facts regarding the proposed wastewater franchise agreement as well as other commentaries supporting the agreement certainly confirm the need not to support the 21-year agreement. The reasons given for this long-term contract are not valid and miss the real issues facing our community.
The agreement presumably, “provides stable parcel tax rates and long-term planning.” However, the valid increases in costs explained further in the advertisement certainly demonstrate that regardless of the contract, unforeseen cost increases will likely occur in the future, which will require changes to the tax rates.
Facilitating “long-term planning” is a very ‘soft’ benefit and certainly does not justify a 21-year agreement. The municipal long-term plans will be affected much more by the volatility in the economy and by other external forces. Any changes to the parcel tax rates will be very minor compared to the many other challenges facing the municipality. Hopefully a major determinant of the long-term plans will also be the Official Community Plan, which will further affect our taxes more than any changes in wastewater management services.
The lamentable lack of transparency throughout this process is an ethical, competence and communications issue that needs to be addressed at election time and through an objective, independent administrative review.
The overriding concern is not the soundness of the agreement or the quality of the contractor or the trustworthiness of the staff in negotiating the best deal for the community. As previously stated it is keeping our tax dollars in our local economy to develop our community. The question is how do we do this?
An obvious alternative is to create a public works department. But the municipality has already rejected this alternative because it was said to be 30 per cent more expensive than EPCOR. It appears that this is based on a cursory comparison to other municipalities and not a thorough alternative evaluation of in-house operation of our Sooke wastewater system. A basic analysis of EPCOR’s Operations Fee Schedule indicates that this 30 per cent estimate is grossly inaccurate.
A second alternative, not previously considered, would be to create a community co-operative to provide this service. This alternative would provide a private-sector service with all the profits remaining in the community and greater flexibility in providing the services and distributing the profits.
A most important consideration is the expertise provided by EPCOR to manage the system. It is people, not a corporate entity, who have the expertise. Ideally the people actually running the operation now will continue to operate it regardless of the alternative chosen. Otherwise, skilled resources can be hired or trained.
Either of these two alternatives can be developed to provide a successful service with greater benefits to the community than EPCOR. Hopefully enough people will sign the response forms so that the municipality will not bother with a referendum and these two alternatives can be properly developed and objectively compared to the EPCOR agreement. At least then, we will have a much clearer choice.