Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board trustee Susan Carr likes idea of more fields. School board suggested Golden Ears elementary be a location for an all-weather field. That will be project funded outside the ongoing alternative approval process. (THE NEWS/files)

Counter-petition for Maple Ridge rec projects ‘like something out of Russia’

Resident says it's too tough to vote no to a project

Ernie Streifel doesn’t oppose all of the recreation projects the City of Maple Ridge wants to build. But he questions the need for a few, such as the million-dollar improvements to the canoe and dock area at Whonnock Lake.

The city’s alternative approval process is now underway, allowing taxpayers to vote no to borrowing money for any of the recreation projects, from a new Albion community hall to sports fields, the city wants to build in the next few years.

If people don’t agree with one particular project, they can sign their name against it by 4 p.m. on Feb. 19.

Streifel, though, says the process is skewed towards making it as difficult as possible to vote no.

“It’s almost something you’d find in Russia. It’s something Putin would come up with in Russia.”

In order to cast a no vote, people either have to print out a form from the city’s website and sign their name in opposition to that particular project and deliver it to the front desk at city hall. Or they can request a form from city hall, sign their name, and hand it back to the clerk.

Forms are also available at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre or the Maple Ridge library, but still must be returned to city hall upon signing.

If more than 10 per cent of voters, or 5,828 of them, oppose any one project, the city will have to go to a full referendum on that project. If fewer than 10 per cent say no, the project will proceed.

Streifel says that instead, the city should just hold a mail-in referendum for all the projects so that it’s equally easy for people to vote no as it is to say yes.

“That would be reasonable and fair.”

As well, those who oppose a project have signed their names on sheets that others can then view.

Instead, it should have been a secret ballot, Streifel said.

“Everything is wrong about it.”

He said most people don’t even know that the alternative approval process is going on.

“I have quite a bit of trust in council, but this is wrong.”

Coun. Bob Masse said holding a referendum would have been more expensive than the alternative approval process and doubted that a mail-in ballot would have been allowed.

And he said if one particular project was very unpopular, it likely would attract a groundswell of opposition, leading to more than 10 per cent of people saying no and defeating that project or requiring a referendum.

The city had the alternative approval process approved by the provincial government. A separate borrowing bylaw for each project means residents who oppose a particular project can simply sign their name on the respective piece of paper indicating their opposition.

In all, the city wants to borrow $49.5 million requiring a total tax increase to fund all eight projects of .35 per cent each year, for the next seven years. After that period, people would be paying, an average of an extra $60 a year on their property taxes.

Streifel, though, got three copies for each project and bylaw and will collect signatures from those who opposed to the particular projects.

“It would have looked better for the government, if they had said, ‘This is what we’re doing, like it or lump it.'”

The city wants to build eight projects, providing a borrowing bylaw for each project is approved:

• $23.5 million, new arena, Planet Ice – many details remain to be worked out on this project;

• $8.5 million, Albion Community Centre – the new building will share the same site with the new elementary school on 104th Avenue, replacing the former Albion Hall that was torn down several years ago;

• $7 million, all-weather sports fields – installation of two artificial, all-weather fields at Thomas Haney secondary and Telosky Stadium grounds;

• $3.5 million, leisure centre – for the balance of the lobby and change-room upgrades to the 37-year-old Maple Ridge Leisure Centre (the major renovations to that facility will cost about $6 million, but tenders have yet to out soliciting bids for the larger project);

• $2.5 million, Hammond Community Centre – renovations are planned for the 40-year-old building;

• $2.5 million, Maple Ridge secondary track – better lighting, seating, and change rooms, will complement the new Karina Leblanc Field, now underway, next to the school;

• $1 million, Silver Valley gathering places – the city wants to build two parkettes in the northern suburb that would allow community barbecues, gardening and gatherings;

• $1 million, Whonnock Lake canoe and kayak facility – improve boat storage and access to lake;

An outdoor pool on 232nd Street, west of Thomas Haney secondary, had also been considered, but was left off the list because there wasn’t enough information. Council may, however, proceed with a separate process for that if it also decides later to build an outdoor pool.

Consultations are also underway for building an indoor pool somewhere in Maple Ridge.

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