At its meeting on Thursday, the Regional District of Central Kootenay board started the process of borrowing up to $32,370,000 to enhance the Castlegar Recreation and Aquatic Centre.
The cost to taxpayers if the project goes ahead would amount to $225 per $300,000 of property value.
The board also decided that in each of the service areas — Castlegar and Areas I and J — the vote must pass by 51 per cent in each of the three areas separately or the referendum will fail for all areas.
The alternative would have been for all areas to vote as a group with an amalgamated vote total for all three areas.
Area I includes Pass Creek, Thrums, Tarrys, Shoreacres, Glade, and Brilliant. Area J encompasses Ootischenia, Robson, Renata, Deer Park, Brooklyn, Shields, Raspberry, Syringa, and Fairview.
Whether to vote as separate areas or not was the subject of lengthy debate at the board table, representing two distinct schools of thought.
One view is that each area should vote separately because directors are elected to serve their constituents, and amalgamating the votes for all three areas means loss of autonomy for individual areas.
Director Andy Davidoff of Area I, supporting this view, said, “I am prepared to abide by whatever my constituents vote on a referendum and this way each area’s voice is respected equally. (Otherwise) when you have a smaller area it marginalizes their vote. This way the voice of the area I residents is respected.”
Several other directors endorsed that position including Ramona Faust and Walter Popoff.
The argument against area-by-area voting was laid out by director Stephen White of Salmo, who advocated for a regional approach.
“I am here to represent my constituents … but we are also here to lead, to provide leadership, and that means there are times when we make decisions that may not be approved of by every single constituent. That leadership is important if we want to move ahead … for the betterment of the region.”
Directors Deb Kozak, Tania Wall, Paul Peterson, and Lawrence Chernoff all spoke in support of this view.
Many directors seemed to be torn between the two philosophies. In the end though, the decision to vote area by area prevailed.
Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff was disappointed that one rural area could bring the whole project to a halt, but he said he has to accept the decision.
“This is key to the whole area, not just to Castlegar, and really we are looking to build the future. A lot of people put in a lot of hard work on this. But it is a process we went through, and we will work extremely hard to get this referendum passed.”
The discussion laid bare a perennial question related to regional recreational services. Many rural residents use urban amenities in such places as Castlegar and Nelson — gyms and libraries, for example — that they are not taxed for. On the other hand some residents of those towns do not use those services but are taxed for them.
RDCK CAO Stuart Horn said the referendum will occur before the summer.
Voters will be voting for or against a plan that was put forward as Option B. It includes the construction of a social hub, a new indoor walking track, a new leisure pool with change room expansion, and improvements to the fitness area. Also, a new ice sheet will be built with seats, team rooms and lobby extension.