Three years ago, politics in North Saanich got off to a rocky start right from day one.
Re-elected Mayor Alice Finall says she doesn’t expect the same kind of fireworks Monday afternoon, as a new council takes its oath of office.
Council back in October of 2012 repealed North Saanich’s own oath that has emphasized confidentiality rules — this after then-councillor Dunstan Browne refused to take that oath and threatened a lawsuit. He would eventually drop the suit and take the oath.
The subsequent vote by council in 2012 meant that this year’s councillors will take an oath the District had prior to 2010.
Finall said Monday’s inaugural meeting at 2:30 p.m. at municipal hall should be much more smooth.
“I have every indication it’ll go well,” she said from home following recent knee surgery. “What happened in 2011 was an exception to the rule.”
Finall is looking forward to this term of office and what could be a return to normalcy for her. In 2011, a council majority decided to have another councillor take on the role as the District’s representative at the Capital Regional District board. It’s a position normally held by the mayor, as had been the practice in North Saanich.
“I’ll be happy to get that back,” Finall said. “It’s early days yet, but there’s a lot happening in the region. It’s an interesting time — an experienced mayor has been unseated (in Saanich) and there’s a new mayor in Victoria. That’ll change the landscape at the CRD level.”
Finall said she has no desire to seek the CRD chair position.
Finall said she sees her role on council as that of a mentor and as the group’s leader. However, she noted that she is just one voice at the table.
“The mayor is meant to be the leader of the council and help them commit to their duties,” she explained. “It’s important for councillors to know what the legislative parameters are and what the expectations are of the job.”
Finall added that being on the other side of the table (in the minority) helped bring to the fore how those expectations have to be worked through.
Monday’s inaugural meeting sets into motion councillor education and training sessions as they get into the annual budget process and start new strategic planning sessions. Those will help set the priorities of council, Finall said.
On that list, she continued, are sure to be things like the Sandown land swap and new commercial development, regional transportation issues that will impact North Saanich, debate over sea level rise and the loss of an estimated $36,000 in tax revenue from the NavCan control tower at the Victoria airport.
That loss, Finall said, may result in a tax increase but that will be up to council to decide, with the help of the District’s financial staff.
“It will be significant over time,” she said of the tax impact of the recent court decision to reduce the property value of the control tower.
“We’ve already paid back two years (a portion of their property taxes) and we will have to pay two more.”
Finall estimated that impact will be at least one per cent of the District’s overall budget that they will have to compensate for out of this decision.
North Saanich already lost some property taxes in a similar case involving the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. The province last year worked out a deal with the municipality and others with ferry terminals to reduce the tax burden on B.C. Ferries, rather than see most of that tax revenue lost.
Lost tax revenue could lead to reduced services, Finall said, especially after a few years of zero to very little in the way of tax increases in the District’s annual budgets.
“We have a healthy tax base overall,” Finall said.
“But if the cuts start to be noticeable, people may have something to say about it.”
By January, Finall said the council will be working on its new strategic plan, taking the existing one and adding to it, or changing priorities. That will be up to council as a whole, she said.
“This gives everyone the opportunity to really think about what’s happening in the community, to talk about that and work with staff on how (new ideas) might transpire.”
After Monday, Finall said council starts it education sessions and on Thursday holds an orientation meeting between them, Central Saanich and Sidney. That will, said the mayor, bring all councillors on the Peninsula up to speed on what’s been done, what’s to come and how everyone fits in.