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Aggressive timeline required for 2023 Quesnel pool project referendum

The committee agreed for staff to report back with two options
The swimming pool in Quesnel, located at the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre, is estimated to be 40 years old and is in need of architectural, mechanical and electrical upgrades. (Rebecca Dyok photo — Quesnel Observer)

The North Cariboo Joint Advisory Committee has requested staff to bring back two options outlining the tax implications for residents after learning an aggressive timeline to hold a referendum next year on the pool upgrade project is required.

The decision was made following more than 30 minutes of discussion at a meeting held Tuesday, Nov. 15.

“The committee hasn’t defined what the scope of work for that project will entail, indicating in the first quarter of 2022 that more public consultation was required,” said Quesnel’s director of community services Jeff Norburn, noting the committee passed a resolution in December 2021 recommending the Cariboo Regional District hold a second referendum for the pool project by April 30, 2023.

“To meet that objective, a public consultation process was undertaken in the spring and summer of 2022, and the committee discussed survey results at the meeting on Sept. 20; however, no direction was provided with the expectation that any action taken would occur following local government elections have occurred.”

Over 80 per cent of survey respondents indicated support for a major renovation of the facility with 62 per cent expressing support for a full renovation with a waterslide and 19.5 per cent for a significant renovation without a waterslide. Support for a major renovation was consistent throughout the region, with the most robust support from residents in Areas C and I.

While it is possible to hold a referendum by April 30, 2023, Norburn said it would require meeting an aggressive timeline and the committee to agree to a scope of work and indicate the level of borrowing by their Dec. 13, 2022 meeting.

The committee agreed for staff to report back with two options: an upgrade and expansion with a waterslide and an upgrade and expansion without a waterslide.

The price tag with a waterslide was last estimated at $34.6 million.

Area B Director Barb Bachmeier said people she had spoken with favoured the ‘full meal deal’ with a waterslide. She voted against the recommendation for staff to bring back two options by Dec. 13, noting the 2021 referendum to refurbish the pool, a ‘half meal deal’, without a waterslide failed.

“I understand why some of the older population don’t want their taxes increased, but in order to attract doctors, nurses, teachers and workers with families, we’re going to have to upgrade our facility and that’s all there is to it,” she added.

Norburn noted referendums are typically held in the spring or fall, and said the longer the committee waits, the more likely costs will continue to escalate.

Cariboo Regional District manager of community services Darron Campbell said borrowing costs have increased, and the calculations of those impacts have not yet been completed.

“I think this group needs to decide what the scope of the project is and understand what those taxation implication costs are and then set a referendum date,” Campbell said. “If it takes two or three more meetings to get to the preferred project from this group, then certainly the spring isn’t going to be viable —the fall probably is, but it depends on how clear that communication message can be.”

Quesnel mayor Ron Paull and Area A director Mary Sjostrom claimed people they have spoken with do not favour the project, despite what Bachmeier and councillor Scott Elliott have heard.

“I think there’s a lot of questions and I feel uncomfortable,” Sjostrom said, adding she believes there needs to be more conversation with residents about what the project would mean on their taxes and if it would be possible to complete the project in segments.

Councillor Laurie Anne Roodenburg said it would be disingenuous for the committee to believe they can go back and start changing things and that they need to move forward.

Area I director Jim Glassford’s mention of a LiDAR report and the need for a geological study before going to a referendum was dismissed as fear-mongering by councillor Martin Runge.

“The problem is the facility is aging, and no matter what we do it’s going to cost us, and it’s going to cost more and more every year for repairs,” Runge said. “I think we have to move on with this. Like you, I don’t want to see my taxes go up as most people do, but we need a facility that is going to attract people and that we can be proud of.”

Area C director John Massier also reiterated Runge’s comments and said he does not want them to keep dithering and suddenly have a crack in the pool’s foundation resulting in them having to shut down the facility as Williams Lake did for major renovations.

“We can’t just keep putting it off,” Massier said.

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