Princeton area residents decided the time is not right for construction of an aquatic centre, voting it down in a referendum on Saturday.
While the vote amongst Princeton residents saw those against construction only receive 33 more votes than the yes side (474-yes to 507-no), Area H resoundingly defeated the bylaw to authorize the regional district to borrow $6 million to construct the aquatic centre with 269 yes votes to 968 no votes. The outcome is not surprising to Area H Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen director Brad Hope.
“I was though actually surprised it didn’t pass in town. There was more support there and quite a number of residents that are renters and as such wouldn’t have to actually pay the same kind of rates,” he said.
The total cost of the project was estimated to be just over $9.3 million with about $3 million subsidized through grants and donations.
“I went all through Area H to talk to people and found very few that didn’t think they could support the centre, they just didn’t feel satisfied with the referendum and the process. It wasn’t that they were against Princeton having an aquatic centre, or that they were against contributing. I think it was the referendum and the way it was set out that was unacceptable. The information that was given, the voting procedure, the numbers seemed to keep changing, the whole thing. I think many people that really wanted it agreed it was rushed to try and get it through before the elections so it wouldn’t become an election issue. Of course, it will now.”
Hope said he was for postponing the referendum throughout the process because it left many questions unanswered for the voters.
“I thought it was unfair to the electorate. Generally you would like to go into a referendum with a pretty clear picture. I think people did not, at least in Area H, like the idea of give us the money, or, it’s a concept and we will figure it out as we go. It’s a lot of money and a large tax increase and those things have to be worked out before you go to referendum, not after,” said Hope.
A recreation master plan in 1998 identified a new indoor aquatic centre as the number one priority for the community. However, it was determined by local governance that the most appropriate means of generating revenue for the proposed family aquatic centre was a parcel tax. This is a method of collecting taxes whereby every property pays the same amount regardless of the assessed value of property. Hope said a number of unknowns may have been what killed the yes vote including costs, land issues and other things.
“It doesn’t have to be sold, people know the benefits of an aquatic centre. What has to be sold is the information, support from industries and knowing what grants are available. If, or when, it goes forward again we will have to come with a package that is really complete and understandable. If we can do that, I don’t think we would have a problem,” said Hope.
Princeton Mayor Randy McLean said the people have spoken, but thinks the referendum process itself is a confusing one that may have turned many voters off. The referendum question posed a $361 increase in taxes but McLean said the true cost would have been around $250.
“We meet with the Premier on Wednesday and it is going to be one of the things I say to her that she should have somebody look at the referendum process,” said McLean who is at UBCM meetings this week. “If you are wanting all referendums to fail you have some good policy in there for that because it is really difficult to get things to pass when you have to try and explain to people these numbers and how they don’t really represent what they will really have to pay.”
Plans for the pool facility were designed for a four-lane, 25-metre lap pool, a warm water leisure pool with water sprays, a tot slide and a lazy river, a whirlpool and change rooms. The proposed site for the pool was adjacent to the Riverside Centre and estimated that construction could have started in June 2012 and be completed by May/June 2013. It would have replaced the aging outdoor Centennial Pool that is 44 years old.
Acting spokesperson for the aquatic facility committee, Lyle Thomas, said the outdoor pool has limited life left and band-aid solutions have been keeping it open — which also is costing the community money.
While agreeing the timeline was tight for the referendum, Thomas said the committee worked hard and did a good job getting information out to the public.
“I think the people had enough information, they just simply chose not to go in this direction,” said Thomas, adding he isn’t sure why people voted it down. “We found many people wanted a pool and they had lots of questions which we thought we answered. It was a complicated project and a complicated question and I think people maybe were a little bit confused. The elected officials chose a parcel tax system and I think a lot of people were confused by that system. We issued a document that addressed that, but I think there was still some confusion.”
Thomas said he would like to see a community meeting occur to determine what people liked and didn’t like about the project
“This whole thing is a public process and to go through it and have it voted down definitely fields some questions for sure,” said Thomas.