Sooke’s 2022 budget was approved Monday (Dec. 13) in a unanimous vote, but the decision wasn’t without controversy.
The budget proposed $109,000 for climate action, including hiring a climate action coordinator.
Mayor Maja Tait said that the council expressed ideas and concerns throughout budget debates but didn’t make recommendations on the position, yet it still appeared in the budget.
“Council directed staff to hold off hiring a permanent climate action coordinator until council had the opportunity to review the findings of an interim climate action strategy,” she said. “Until I understand more of what we’re trying to accomplish, I don’t know to hire and establish a whole service is the right thing to do at this time.”
Three councillors – Tony St-Pierre, Jeff Bateman and Ebony Logins – agreed climate action funds must remain in the budget. Tait later clarified she didn’t want to remove the money from the budget. She only wanted to hold off hiring for the position.
The money was placed in the budget to assist with climate action, Logins said, noting, “(council’s) job is to say money is there to work on climate action.”
Tait voiced concern about the demands put on municipal staff and whether hiring a climate action coordinator makes sense now when other departments are understaffed or need more help. She added that the new Capital Regional District climate initiative could take pressure off the Sooke budget.
The coordinator isn’t expected to be hired until next fall, but before that, the climate action plan will be presented to council by staff, said Norm McInnis, chief administrative officer.
When the mayor called for the budget vote, Tait, Couns. Dana Lajeunesse and Al Beddows voted against, while St-Pierre, Bateman and Logins voted in favour. Coun. Megan McMath did not attend the meeting. The 3-3 tie defeated the motion.
The defeated motion drew groans from municipal staff attending the meeting and a profane outburst from Logins.
More debate ensued, and after the mayor called for reconsideration of the vote, Lajeunesse said he would change his vote.
“I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are too many things in the budget I don’t want to let go,” he said.
The vote was passed unanimously.
The 2022 budget is worth $31.5 million and includes a 6.09-per-cent property tax increase.
More than $19.8 million is earmarked for operating expenses and $11.7 million in capital projects.
Infrastructure projects have the biggest price tags, including a wastewater treatment plant expansion, $4.6 million; road paving program, including Connie and Manzer roads, up to $700,000; Church Road roundabout, $276,000; multiple road design projects (Throup, Charters, Phillips, West Coast Road), and electric vehicle charging stations.
Due to unprecedented growth, the district hopes to add new positions, including an engineering manager and a career firefighter, and increase the budget for auxiliary park workers.
Additional items in the budget include the visitors centre, $5,400; Healthy Schools program, $5,000, and Sooke Family Resources, $30,000.