Interest in the city’s open house on the alternative approval process for the proposed water treatment plant was reduced to a trickle Wednesday afternoon as summer weather took precedence over municipal issues.
City staff were on hand at the Bowen Recreation Centre from 3-7 p.m. to field questions from the public on the direction city council chose to obtain approval to borrow $22.5 million toward the $65-million water treatment facility.
The alternative approval process, which ends at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 31, requires at least 10 per cent of the city’s 62,680 registered voters to submit elector response forms to prevent city hall from borrowing the money.
“We’re here to inform people on the process so they can make a decision about whether borrowing is a good option or if there are other options,” said Tom Hickey, general manager of community services.
Just a handful of residents attended the open house.
Nanaimo resident Lynn Stewart, who took her 12-year-old granddaughter Emily to the open house to expose her to civic issues, said she agrees borrowing the money is the best avenue so taxes and user rates don’t increase, but that an alternative approval process in the middle of summer is disrespectful to citizens.
“This is an election year, this decision should be decided in a referendum,” said Stewart. “A summer AAP is iffy at best. Last election there was what, 20 per cent voter participation, so how they can expect anywhere close to obtaining 10 per cent in the middle of summer on a single issue? I have to wonder about the qualifications of the people who made this decision.”
Elector response forms can be found and submitted at legislative services at city hall. B.C. municipalities require permission from electors to borrow money if the loan term exceeds five years.
Council originally voted for a referendum on borrowing the money linked to the upcoming municipal election, but that decision was brought back and overturned in favour of the alternative approval process.
If permission to borrow money is not granted through the AAP process, council still has time to seek permission through a referendum in November’s municipal election. If approval is once again rejected, council has indicated the money would be raised by raising water rates at least 80 per cent for the next three years.
Hickey said the city must show it is able to pay its portion of the project to qualify for $17.8-million in grant money from the federal and provincial governments.
“That money is conditional on our ability to raise $22.5 million, but we will raise it either through borrowing or increasing user rates,” said Hickey.
The federal government’s Community Works Fund will also contribute $10 million to the project, while development cost charges will cover $5.9 million. Water user rates, which are scheduled to increase five per cent annually for the foreseeable future, will contribute $8.8 million.
“We moved here from Edmonton almost two years ago and my taxes have already increased twice since we’ve been here,” said Stewart. “Property taxes here, in my opinion, are already too much, so I’d rather see that we borrow the money.”
Mandated by Vancouver Island Health Authority in 2008, the new water treatment centre, located on South Forks Road, will provide high-tech filtration processes that will meet federal Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines standards while also meeting the area’s drinking water demands for the next 30 years.
Though Nanaimo’s drinking water is already some of the best in the country, the membrane filtration process will reduce the threat of viruses, bacteria, protozoa and turbidity events.
For more information on the water treatment facility or the alternative approval process, please visit www.nanaimo.ca.