City borrowing advanced to public approval stage

The public will have its say over whether the city should borrow up to $32.2 million to pay for as many as 11 projects as city council voted Monday to advance the items to alternative approval processes.

If at least 10 per cent of the electorate, estimated at 5,546 signatures, sign a petition against a respective project, council will have to either scrap going ahead with the item or take it to a full-blown referendum.

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The deadline for signing a petition is May. The forms will be available at city hall starting on April 18, but because they were also posted with the agenda package for Monday's council meeting, city hall will accept those that have been printed off, filled out and brought in before that date.

Most council members supported taking the step.

"We've been hearing for the at least the 10 years I've been on council that there is a big storm coming in infrastructure rebuilds...and now we're starting to see that the storm is arriving and there's a lot to be done," said Coun. Garth Frizzell.

If they survive the process, they will be funded through the Municipal Finance Authority which Frizzell said is "the least expensive debt mechanism we can get."

For all but one, the money will be paid back over 20 years and, in total, they will add up to $2.5 million per year in debt-servicing costs and account for 2.3 per cent of future tax levy increases, according to staff.

"I'm sure these wouldn't be in front of us if a) we hadn't approved them at budget already and b) if staff hadn't approved these as critical," Frizzell added.

Coun. Frank Everitt echoed Frizzell's comments and added holding off on the work is not an option.

"It's a huge number, there's no doubt about it," Everitt said. "But procrastination won't help the number go down any, it'll raise it up.

"And we'll be doing it on the basis of the critical mass of where something comes apart like we had this summer at the corner of 20th and Massey where we found ourselves in a position where we had to do more work than we intended to.

"And these projects, I think, fall into the category. If you leave things for some time, sooner or later it catches up with you. It's a costly exercise."

At $10.2 million, a major refurbishment of the Aquatic Centre in advance of the 2022 B.C. Summer Games is the biggest while the next largest is $5 million for replacing about 600 traffic signals and street lights.

That's followed by $4.7 million to replace roofs on a dozen civic facilities, followed by $2.9 million for equipment purchases (which would be borrowed over 10 years at 2.6 per cent), $2.7 million for additional work at Masich Place Stadium, $1.7 million for continued redevelopment at Ron Brent Park, $1.4 million to expand the mausoleum, $1.2 million for upgrades along 14th Avenue from Irwin to Freeman streets, $1.1 million for culvert replacements along Goose Country Road, $800,000 for upgrades along the Highway 16 West frontage road from Heyer to Henry Roads and $500,000 to signalize and reconfigure the intersection at Domano Boulevard and St. Lawrence Avenue/Gladstone Drive.

Coun. Brian Skakun voted against proceeding with six of the projects: Masich Place, Ron Brent, 14th Avenue, Highway 16 West frontage, Goose Country Road and the street light replacements.

All other councillors at the meeting voted in favour of all 11. Councillors Terri McConnachie and Susan Scott were absent.

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