The North Cariboo Joint Advisory Committee went into the deep end on the Quesnel and District Arts and Recreation Centre’s pool for their first meeting since June at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The committee, made up of Cariboo Regional District (CRD) directors and Quesnel city councillors disagreed on what next steps need to be taken in renovating the pool.
A referendum to borrow money to repair and upgrade the pool was defeated by the voting public in June of 2021 by only 60 votes, and under 2,000 people voted.
Staff presented three options to the committee Take no further action, and maintain the facility through the existing budgets, hold another referendum, or alter the project to allow it to go forward without the long-term borrowing that needs to be approved by referendum.
Members of the committee were in agreement that taking no action was a complete non-starter, but were divided on what next steps should be taken.
The committee decided to go back to the public to ask them what they want to see out of the project, opting not to pick any of the options presented in the report.
Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson noted the consultations will take up additional resources, especially if the referendum were to be held as planned, in conjunction with the municipal elections.
Many committee members, including Simpson, supported immediately committing to another referendum in October of 2022, but with a new cost estimate and a changed project scope.
While he eventually voted in favour of going to the public to get more feedback, he cautioned against doing so with a blank slate of options.
“The answer is going to be everything from nothing to everything, and it’s still going to come back to us to try and figure out what is a doable project, given our fiscal framework, given equity to generations of rate payers and using the debenture process, which is the way anybody capitalized major projects of this scope,” he said.
According to a city of Quesnel report, if the referendum question was on the same project, it would now cost $24 million, an increase of $4 million thanks to construction costs rising.
“Maybe they had a conversation four years ago, but the people in this community aren’t the same people who were here four years ago.” Sjostrom said, noting when the public was first consulted on a pool renovation. “We all know people who have moved, we’ve had a tremendous amount of people move in, not only in the city, but in the region. Let’s give them an opportunity.”
Others on the committee, including former Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom and Barbara Bachmeier, suggested asking the public to endorse a $10 million reduced project scope. Sjostrom refused to support any reccomendation with the word “referendum,” in it.
To get the funds for the reduced scope project, the committee would approve raising North Cariboo Subregional Recreation tax levels as high as possible without a referendum.
“To just go to referendum after basically a 50/50 decision, and you might get a 50/50 decision in the positive or it might go the other way,” Bachmeier said. “Then what are we looking at? We’re looking at a disaster.”
The city report recommended scheduling another referendum, noting the other option would result in higher costs for the work, and more disruptions to the facility as renovations would be done over a five-year period.
Bachmeier suggested looking at the subregional recreation boundary and seeing if it needs to be redrawn.
Borrowing through a referendum would raise taxes by $53/$100,000 of assessed properties over an extended period of roughly 20 years, while the lower scope project would see taxes raised by $67/$100,000 of assessed property value over five years.
The project would see regional recreation taxes rise by 48 per cent according to the city’s report.
While some appeared to support approving the referendum, and going to the public to get project scope, Sjostrom said she would not vote to approve the recommendation if it mentioned a referendum.
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