Princeton mayor ready to support referendum if proposal for $7 million loan gets defeated

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A proposal to borrow $7 million to fix town infrastructure may well go to referendum if it’s defeated in the present Alternative Approval Process (AAP).

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said if the AAP fails “my personal opinion is that I would have to support a referendum…This is something that we’ve been kicking down the road and down the road and down the road. It’s not something that we can continue to do that with. We’ve done all the studies and it would be irresponsible for us not to act now. You can only ignore the facts for so long.”

Related: Princeton proposes to take on $7M in debt to fix crumbling infrastructure

On June 3, the municipality opened the AAP. This allows eligible voters to submit forms of opposition to the borrowing plan, along with the projected tax increase to residential properties of $194.74 per year, for 30 years.

The APP closes July 12, 2021. If 10 per cent of the electorate properly submits an objection – an estimated 228 people – the proposal could be forced to referendum.

Princeton is presently one of only a dozen of communities in the province that carries no debt and it paid out its last loan in the mid-1970s.

According to engineers, six projects need to be undertaken to update the town’s infrastructure.

The most costly is a full replacement of the sewer trunk main from Tulameen Avenue and Allison Avenue, through to Fenchurch Avenue and Lime Street. The estimated cost is $4.28 million. This will address deficiencies in the line and include a new river crossing at Angela Avenue.

It will secure service and allow for new development, states an engineer’s report.

Upgrades to the Fenchurch Lift Station are recommended as the first job to be undertaken. During spring freshet, that station has needed to be supported by trucks removing effluent and driving it straight to sewer lagoons.

If approved, funds would be borrowed over time, as needed, to complete the planned projects, which also include digging the fourth well for consumer water consumption and fire protection, replacing the Billiter Warren Booster Station and replacing a four-inch sewer pipe in north Princeton.

The booster station has fallen into disrepair and is a safety hazard for workers, said CAO Lyle Thomas in a previous interview.

According to Coyne, if the loan goes ahead, it will also allow Princeton to position itself for development which is presently stymied.

One engineer’s report indicates, for example, that Princeton’s water system can only support an estimated further 118 residential units.

Coyne said he believes the majority of residents support the move to borrow the money. “Every member of council ran on the point of fixing our infrastructure.”

Related: Town gets started on new Official Community Plan and Development Cost Charges bylaw

Communities borrow money from the Municipal Finance Authority, where the interest rate is currently 2.29 per cent. On a $7 million loan, the debt servicing payment would amount to $336,910 annually.

To underscore the importance of infrastructure repairs Coyne can recall an incident in 1996 when a sewer pipe broke and compromised a well. “That’s the scariest thing I ever lived through. People were sick with e-coli and (other) bacteria. It was horrible.”