A group of rural and seasonal property owners are laying the ground work for an appeal of last month's Vanderhoof pool referendum.
Dick Martin is part of a group organizing a meeting on Saturday afternoon at the Cluculz Lake Community Hall which aims to drum up support for an appeal to the B.C. Supreme Court. Martin said due process wasn't followed in the February referendum which approved a tax increase to finance a $4 million loan for the $12 million needed for the construction and operation of the facility.
Martin listed a number of concerns with the process including: which areas were covered by the vote, the lack of minutes from community meetings about the pool, the timing of the vote and the complicated nature of the voting process which he said disenfranchised voters due to paperwork requirements.
The vote was conducted via two separate referendum, one for residents of Vanderhoof and the other for residents and property owners in Regional Area F in the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako. Both votes passed and pool proponents now have five years to get the rest of the funding in place.
In the regional area the pool referendum passed with a vote of 575-472, but in the subset of Cluculz Lake, property owners voted overwhelmingly no.
"They've got five years to push this through," Martin said. "If it ends up in the courts and we have to appeal it and appeal it and appeal it, then maybe that's how we hold up their referendum."
Regional director for Area F and pool committee member Jerry Petersen said he believes the vote was conducted fairly and the result should stand.
"There was a referendum held, the referendum passed and now I'm obligated and we're all obligated to go with the will of the majority of the people," he said, adding appealing to the court is well within the rights of those upset with the process.
Since property owners aren't full-time residents, they only got one vote per property and if a property was jointly owned, a signed declaration was required to indicate the voter had the approval of the other property owners. Martin said the form was not included with the voting package and many people showed up to vote without the proper paperwork and were excluded.
"People who showed up at the lake without it either had to go home or say '[to heck with] this' and just not vote," he said. "There's lots of people that stood in line and didn't realize they needed that letter."
Petersen said the regional district went "well beyond what's required" in informing people of the vote and the process and that it was up to individual voters to make sure they were qualified.
Martin believes the pool will be utilized more by people from places like Fraser Lake and Fort St. James than by property owners in the Cluculz Lake area and said those communities should have been part of referendum and tax base.
In past Vanderhoof referendums for things like a recreation centre and the library, Cluculz Lake area property owners were excluded and Martin said that should have been the case this time as well.
"I'm trying to find out how Area F got invited to pay for a pool that we're never going to use," he said.
Martin also questioned why residents of First Nations reserves could vote since they don't pay property tax.
"They get all the privileges but pay absolutely no taxes," he said. "The Cluculz Lake property owners have the highest assessed value of property in Area F."
Martin also believes the vote should have been conducted in the summer when seasonal residents are present and may be considered permanent residents and barring that mail voting should have been offered to areas like Bobtail Lake.
Saturday's meeting is set for 2 p.m. at the community hall and Martin said the group wants to hear stories about voting irregularities as well as gauge interest in funding a court challenge. The group has until March 23 to launch its appeal.