Sewage levy increases bother Greater Victoria mayors

Langford's Stew Young among those seeking CRD policy change on funding model

At least three of the region’s mayors are questioning the continual increases in public money going to the Capital Regional District for the future wastewater treatment facility.

“It is my opinion that until a firm plan is in place the money is better kept in our tax payers’ pockets rather than sitting idle in the CRD’s bank account,” said Mayor Stew Young in a recent letter to the CRD, requesting the annual requisition increases be put on hold.

“Before they do any tax requisitions,” Young told the Gazette this week, “the public needs to be part of the process.” Whether the public actually attends the open houses and roundtable discussions or not is inconsequential, he said, but the CRD has a responsibility to finish the public process and choose a site for a treatment plant before asking for money for the project.

“My belief is that the government should never take money out of the pockets of the people unless it’s for a service you’re actually performing,” he said.

Young is also frustrated at the process. People are asking him what it’s costing them, he said, adding he can only tell them he doesn’t know, but they’re paying for it right now.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins is also concerned.

“I believe we should be collecting to be prepared,” she said, “but we shouldn’t be over-collecting.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps worries that the public is being asked for so much in advance of a project with so many facets yet to be worked out but recognizes that the financial burden being drawn out over a longer period has its benefits, as well.

“The concerning piece is that we are collecting money for a project that we don’t know exactly what it is yet, (but) over-collecting in one year means that when push comes to shove and shovels go into the ground, the costs won’t be as sudden to our taxpayers.”

Young agrees the huge cost of the project is one that needs to be borne by the public eventually, but disagrees this is the best way to do it.

“It’s kinda like saying that everyone is stupid and we’re going to have to help them pay their bill,” Young said. “We’re smart. We understand that if there’s a bill coming, we’re going to need to manage that. The problem right now is that we don’t know what that bill is going to be.”

The public is instead being asked to pay into a hypothetical project, he added.

“I believe in transition funding when it’s accurate, when it’s for a full-blown plan that’s been approved by the politicians and the public,” he said. He sees no value to taxpayers to give $40 million per year to the CRD to have sitting in its bank account, when people could be using their share of the tax hit to pay their mortgage or cover other expenses.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, CRD board chair, said nothing can be done to alter the 2015 requisition, as it has already been passed by the board and integrated into the budget, but that considerations may be made going forward. The first opportunity to consider reworking the requisition and levy funding model would be for the 2016 budget.

“The philosophy of the board has been to gradually ease into it so there wouldn’t be a huge bill to pay down the line,” Jensen said.

By August of this year, he added, the board will have raised approximately $30 million from these requisitions. The Craigflower Pump Station in View Royal – a facility he called “integral to the infrastructure” of what will become wastewater treatment for the region – cost $25 million alone to build, “so I think the decision from the board to start collecting this money was a prudent one, when you look at the wider context.”

The letter from the City of Langford and the mayors’ concerns will be addressed, Jensen said, at the meeting of the CRD board of directors on May 13.

Potential sites for treatment facility narrowed down

The Westside Solutions technical committee has narrowed the list of potential sites for a wastewater treatment facility on the West Shore.

The 20 sites deemed “technically feasible,” by the committee will not be identified to the public at this time, according to a release by the organization, because “several of them are privately owned.” The release also stated the locations were selected “based on their size and proximity to existing trunk lines, potential outfalls, neighbourhoods and existing developments that could take advantage of resource recovery opportunities.”

Esquimalt mayor and Westside Solutions co-chair Barbara Desjardins says the narrowing of the possible site list, “is a positive step forward, but we have more work to do yet.” Part of that work is another round of public engagement sessions. The next of those takes place Saturday (May 9) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Colwood City Hall.

That meeting will focus on resource recovery, while a May 13 meeting at the Songhees Wellness Centre will focus on cost and level of treatment.

mdavies@goldstreamgazette.com

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