VANDERHOOF - Residents in Vanderhoof and region voted strongly in favour of building a pool on Saturday, but the work is just beginning, according to Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
"It's kind of like when I ran my marathon," the mayor said. "It's like the day I went and bought a pair of running shoes and made the decision that I was one day going to run a marathon."
The referendum, which received 77 per cent support in town and 55 per cent support in the rural area, will allow for a tax increase to finance a loan for $4 million towards the proposed facility. Proponents still need to raise an additional $8 million, which they hope to get from government and corporate sources.
"We certainly have seen the federal and provincial governments in other communities substantially support that," Thiessen said. "And we've also seen in places like Houston major corporations that have supported pools very strongly."
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad called the results of the referendum "huge for the community" and said he's behind the project.
"I'm going to do every I can to try to support what they're trying to achieve," he said. "When you think of opportunity associated with New Gold, with Mount Milligan and with the pipeline projects and there's a host of things in agriculture, we should see some growth in the area and they want to attract people to live there."
Thiessen echoed those sentiments and said a pool will make the community more attractive to skilled workers and their families.
Trevor Stark, who owns the local Home Hardware franchise, hopes the pool will be be a benefit to the community but said it comes with a cost. He anticipates the tax increase will cost his business about $1,200 a year plus an addition $300 or so on his personal property taxes.
"The increase is going to be substantial and ongoing," he said. "It's not going to be a one-time hit."
The tax increase won't come into effect until the rest of the money is raised, likely a couple of years down the road. Stark said the additional costs will be tough to budget for, but he'll find a way to make it work.
"We have to just make sure we're making money so we can cover it at the end of the day," he said. "We won't increase our prices, we can absorb it."
Stark understands the pool could help attract better employees to the community and make it a healthier and more attractive place to live - but given the cost he hopes that will be utilized to its full potential.
Vanderhoof visitor services co-ordinator Spencer Siemens said having a pool has the potential to be a big boost to tourism. During the summer he gets questions from travellers every second day about an aquatic centre and when he tells them Vanderhoof doesn't have one they often continue down the road to places like Houston and Smithers.
"Not everyone is comfortable in swimming in a lake or a river with no lifeguard on duty," Siemens said. "With the pool coming in the next few years it will give visitors a chance to for a swim on a hot day and it will keep business in the community."
Northern Health board chairman Dr. Charles Jago said the pool will open up opportunities for the community to partner with the health authority to deliver programs.
This is the third time a pool has been proposed and voted on. It failed the first two times largely due to rural opposition.
Aside from the Cluculz Lake area, most of the polls both in town and in the regional district strongly supported the pool. Some Cluculz Lake property owners were outspoken that the tax increase was unduly harsh on them since many own seasonal properties and either live somewhere else where they can access a pool or swim in the lake.
Thiessen called the results from Cluculz Lake "a concern."
"You see residents of Vanderhoof who send their children to B.C. northern university in Prince George and they'll go an purchase a home in Prince George," he said. "They never have asked for [tax] credit, when it comes to culture, recreation, transportation.
"We have believed in supporting the entire north and it was bit of a concern to see that wasn't reciprocal with a large contingent in that area."
With so much work to do, Thiessen hopes within two years the project will be ready for construction.