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Osoyoos town council reverses on fire hall referendum
Members of Town of Osoyoos council have opted to use an “alternative approval process” to determine whether or not the town should build a new fire hall and to borrow more than $6 million to build it in 2015.
Because a committee struck up to review the financing and building of a new fire hall could not agree on all facets of the project, there simply isn’t enough time to hold a referendum this summer as originally planned, said chief administrative officer Barry Romanko during a presentation to council on Monday.
Following lengthy debate, councillors voted against an option to hold a referendum on financing and building the new fire hall in conjunction with the November 15 municipal election.
Instead, council unanimously supported an option to use the alternative approval process.
Council must advertise this option in two consecutive issues of the Osoyoos Times of their intention to borrow the $6.6 million using electoral assent though the alternative approval process.
Council must also provide at least 30 days after the second notice in the newspaper for electors to respond to the process.
If a petition of 10 per cent or more of eligible voters (474 votes) comes to council, then council must use a referendum to receive electoral assent to borrow the funds.
If less than 474 people sign the petition, then council would have the legal right to proceed with the borrowing bylaw and building the fire hall through a majority vote of council.
If elector assent is obtained, council could pass the borrowing bylaw the first week in October.
The bylaw would then be sent to the province for certification that allows 30 days for electors to apply for the bylaw to be quashed based on inappropriate electoral processes.
Coun. C. J. Rhodes said he couldn’t support holding a referendum on the fire hall as part of the municipal election.
“One of the difficulties I’m having is this (fire hall) being an election issue,” he said. “I’m just not comfortable with that.”
If more than 475 local residents sign the petition, local citizens will have made it clear they believe a referendum is the only way to determine if a new fire hall should be built and the $6.6 million needed to build it should be borrowed, he said.
Mayor Stu Wells agreed saying holding a referendum on a key issue like building a new fire hall and borrowing money to build it is too important an issue to be decided on the same day voters are selecting a new mayor and council.
Holding the fire hall referendum on the same day as the municipal election would “no doubt result in single issue candidates running (for public office) based solely on being for or against the fire hall,” said Wells.
Numerous local residents also leave town for the winter by the middle of November and will want to be able to cast their support for or against the fire hall, he said.
Under all the circumstances, the alternate approval process is the best way to proceed, said Coun. Michael Ryan.
The proposed new fire hall would be located on 1.8 acres near the intersection of 74th Avenue and Hwy. 97 on what is commonly known as The Richter Property.
The building would feature 7,200 square feet of operational area, including four double apparatus bays to accommodate potential long-term equipment needs, as well as 3,600 square feet of administrative space for officers, operational support and storage.
There would also be a multi-service room to serve as the town’s emergency operations centre in the event of a disaster.
Other facility features and site installations needed to meet the fire department’s advanced training needs on-site include a training classroom and tower, asphalted training area with gas line and underground draft pit storage tank to practice refilling.
The total project cost is $6,018,000, but a 10 per cent cost overrun contingency has been factored in, bringing the proposed borrowing bylaw to $6.6 million.
Almost $5.4 million would go towards facility construction, outside improvements, on-site servicing and landscaping.
The remaining $625,000 covers future consulting services needed for working drawings, tendering and construction management through to completion.
The town has secured $407,000 from the Union of B.C. Municipalities from gas tax funding to go towards this project.
The town also provides fire protection services to the Osoyoos Rural Fire Protection District and the Osoyoos Indian Band and has secured agreement with both parties relating to providing funding should a new fire hall be built, said Romanko.
Borrowing would take place through the Municipal Finance Authority over 30 years at an estimated 3.3 per cent interest rate, with the annual debt repayment of $303,000, subject to receiving elector approval from the alternate approval process or a referendum.
With council’s support of the alternate approval process on Monday, the provincial government is expected to take between six to eight weeks to approve the plan.
Council is expected to announce their plan relating to the fire hall on August 18.