Voters in North Cowichan will likely be asked in June through an alternative approval process if they will allow the municipality to borrow $4.8 million to replace the aging Crofton fire hall.
North Cowichan council decided at its meeting on March 16 that it would move forward to replace the existing fire hall with a 3,636 sq. ft. facility.
The original proposal called for a new $4.2 million, 2,150 sq. ft. fire hall, but staff recommended the municipality increase the size and cost to allow the facility’s training and recreations rooms to be separate. Council agreed.
An AAP requires that 10 per cent or more of the eligible voters in a municipality sign and submit response forms in opposition to a project to stop the borrowing process from proceeding.
If 10 per cent of voters in North Cowichan sign forms in opposition to borrowing to replace Crofton’s firehall, the municipality would then have to choose to either hold a referendum within 80 days, or council may put the project on hold and consider alternatives.
Council considered the option of holding a referendum on borrowing for the fire hall, which would have been added to the ballot for the municipal elections that will be held in October, but decided against it.
In a referendum, a majority of voters are required to vote in favour of a project before it can proceed.
Coun. Rob Douglas asked staff what the advantages are of an AAP over a referendum when the municipal elections are just months away.
North Cowichan’s corporate officer Michelle Martineau said an AAP allows council to take the pulse of the community and see where they stand on the issue.
“If we get more than 10 per cent of the [Elector Response Forms back opposing borrowing for the fire hall], then the question can be put on the ballot in the fall,” she said.
CAO Ted Swabey added AAPs are generally held when a council is committed to a project that they know the community can’t be without.
“Referendums are usually held for conference centres or sports arenas when a council is not sure the community is on board with it,” he said.
Mayor Al Siebring said that another way to look at it is that a fire hall is considered essential, while a new sports arena may not be considered essential.
Swabey added that ever-increasing construction costs are also a consideration.
“The rising costs of construction between getting an AAP done and being under construction in eight months versus waiting eight months and being under construction in 12 to 16 months would be substantial, and that would mean higher costs for the taxpayers,” he said.
A staff report said that at current interest rates, financing a $4.8-million loan for 20 years would result in total annual debt servicing costs of approximately $325,000 per year, or $17.04 per average household in North Cowichan.
Staff have been instructed by council to develop a communications plan for informing residents about the firehall project and the AAP, and will report back to council with the details.