I wonder if, with so many seniors in Sechelt, our Council is guilty of elder abuse defined by the federal Minister of State for Seniors as "Any action by someone in a relationship of trust that results in... distress to an older person." What do you think?
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Daphne Bramham: More trouble in coastal paradise        You SCROLL Down
 Sechelt staff strike one week after senior manager quits
 BY DAPHNE BRAMHAM, VANCOUVER SUN COLUMNIST JUNE 14, 2013 8:07 PM
                                                          
Bramham has special credentials - SEE HERE
The district of Sechelt is one troubled municipality where the bad news just keeps rolling in.
At noon on Friday, its unionized staff went on strike, leaving only a skeleton crew of three at the two sewage treatment plants and three at the RCMP office.
Last week, Chris Connor resigned after only four months on the job as director of corporate services. Connor is a lawyer who had worked for the city of Calgary and more recently for a publicly traded technology firm in Victoria.
With his resignation, Connor is the tenth staff member and the seventh senior manager to leave the district since Mayor John Henderson and the council were elected in November 2011.
Among those who have either resigned or been fired are the chief administrator, finance director and engineering director.
The district - population 8,454 - ran a $1-million deficit last year, despite Henderson's promise that it would be closer to $500,000.
In a mid-May message to voters about the 2013 budget, which will raise the average homeowner's taxes, sewage and garbage fees by $34, Henderson described the $1 million as a long-standing "structural deficit."
The 2012 deficit, plus the $2-million deficit from 2011 have been covered by money taken from reserve funds. But what happens when those reserves are depleted? Without the reserve fund money, the 2012 deficit alone would have required a tax increase of 14 per cent.
Late last month, Sechelt was on the hit list for performance audits put out by B.C.'s new auditor general for local governments.
What Basia Ruta and her staff will focus on in Sechelt (along with Cranbrook, Rossland, North Vancouver District, Dawson Creek and Campbell River) is how assets and new capital projects are managed.
It's no surprise Sechelt is on that list.
The district remains alive with protest and debate over the district council's decision to build a $22.4-million sewage treatment plant.
The controversy centres on the location, which is downtown rather than on industrial land that had previously been purchased specifically for that purpose. Fuelling the dissent is the fact that Henderson's $1.16-million home is only about 350 metres away from that industrial site.
But it goes beyond that. The technology is untried in North America. It's more expensive than traditional methods.
And beyond the technical concerns are questions about its capacity, which is only slightly more than the existing system. That's despite the fact more than half the existing homes in Sechelt aren't connected to the municipal sewer system. Instead, they use septic fields that need to be regularly pumped out at the owners' expense even though they are charged a municipal sewage fee.
Additionally, council established Sechelt Innovations Ltd. to attract investment. Council allocated $600,000 to the new corporation - $150,000 from its 2013 budget and $200,000 for the next two years from the district-owned Sechelt Community Projects Inc.
And in the midst of all of this, council decided to reduce traffic on the main street to one-way at a cost of $30,000, which was not included in the 2013 budget.
It was only after howls of protest from residents as well as opposition from the RCMP, the ministry of transportation, the bus company and about half of the business owners surveyed that council blinked, setting back the changeover date to late June and more recently abandoning the plan "for the foreseeable future," according to the mayor.
While all the controversy has enlivened the letters to the editor page of the local newspapers, it has also lit up the telephone lines and filled more than a few email boxes in Victoria.
It's no doubt another reason that the local government auditor-general chose Sechelt.
But concerned citizens of Sechelt are asking important questions about transparency and accountability. They have documented how so many crucial decisions are being debated and decided behind closed doors without input from taxpayers.
And they've questioned what controls there are on municipal politicians who seem to be making decisions that are not only unpopular, but have the potential to raise property taxes beyond what residents can afford and even bankrupt the municipality.
For his part, Henderson has also put the question on the table that Coralee Oakes, the new community development minister, needs to address.
Municipalities across the province have urgent needs for improving, replacing and building new infrastructure - everything from sewage treatment plants to rapid transit and bike lanes.
But municipalities - creatures of the provincial government - are limited in the ways they can raise money and lack the certainty they need about how much money will be available from the senior levels of government to pay for these crucial facilities and services.
dbramham@vancouversun.com

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