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Open house clarifies recreation referendum

Approving a $6.7 million loan doesn’t necessarily mean a $6.7 million debt



There were no architectural models. No artistic renderings of an idyllically landscaped facility. No slick floor plans to take away.

Instead, this week’s SLRD-sponsored open houses at the Pemberton and Birken community centres regarding the proposed community centre reiterated key points from the Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants report and information pertaining to the impending referendum.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, voters in the Village of Pemberton and Electoral Area C will cast their votes to endorse or reject a plan to borrow more than $6.7 million to build a community recreation building. The building and the referendum have been the topic of much discussion and speculation. The two open houses were held to clear up any misinformation people had.

The electorate will be asked to answer "yes" or "no" on the following question:

" Are you in favour of adoption of Pemberton/ Area C Community Recreation Building Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 963 — 2005, which will permit the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District to borrow $6,721,860 repayable by taxation within the Village of Pemberton and Electoral Area C over a period of twenty-five years for the purpose of assisting in the financing of the new Area C/ Pemberton Community Centre/Library Complex?"

The facility, as recommended by the PERC report, will consist of 13, 445 sq. ft. of multi-purpose community space, activity rooms, a 3,000 sq. ft. fitness centre and a 4,000 sq. ft. library. The project is going to referendum as a condition of funding because regional districts and municipal governments cannot borrow or enter a contract for more than five years without public approval. Since the project is a joint initiative of both the SLRD and the VOP, voters from both regions must be queried.

Mayoralty candidate Mark Hunter is the only politician running who has come out against the referendum.

Hunter sees the current plans as creating a reduction of services. An avid player of pick-up basketball during the winter months, he is concerned about the loss of a gym, an amenity that exists in the current community centre.

In an e-mail questioning the integrity of the project, Hunter pointed out that not only would the new centre mean the loss of the gym but playing fields for soccer and baseball.

"What they’re putting in for a community centre for the kind of dollars they’re talking about is impractical. I opposed the last one and I’ll oppose the next one," Hunter said in an interview earlier this month.

However, the approval of the referendum will not cause an immediate disappearance of the existing community centre with its gymnasium and playing field.

According to SLRD administrator Paul Edgington, the lease on the existing community centre, which ends Dec. 31, is currently being renegotiated. While the parameters of the lease are undetermined at this time, he did say the term could be as long as five years.

One of the misconceptions about the current referendum is that if granted the permission to borrow the money, local government cannot reallocate funds to different facilities.

"The bylaw is for a specific project," says Edgington.

As for whether the project is exactly what the community wants, Edgington was philosophical.

"It may not be what they want, but it’s what they can afford."

In his e-mail, Hunter expressed frustration at the lack of bricks and mortar plans for the project, but Edgington said the basics have been defined.

"All that’s left to decide are issues like roofline, the size and allocation of space is all there, as is the projected costs," said the SLRD administrator.

The total community centre costs are $4.7 million, the library is almost $1 and the balance of the request to borrow represents a 15 per cent contingency to accommodate escalating building costs as recommended by the Union of B.C. Municipalities. These figures are net of any non-dent financing sources such as the Federal-Provincial Infrastructure Grant of $1.1 million and an equal amount expected in voluntary developer contributions from the Wedge Development. Additionally, a $300,000 Olympic Live Site grant – designed to implement high end community audio-visual environment – will be available once the venue exists.

"This project needs to go ahead, but we don’t need to spend all the money," said Jordan Study, mayoralty candidate for Valley Vision: Leadership in Action.

"It’s all speculative. Hopefully, we can come up with other money with the existing grant money and maybe borrow $2 million to build the existing concept. Then we could get on board with phase two. Phase two, in my opinion is an arena, pool and ball field to be developed in co-operation with Mount Currie."

"I don’t want that big pile of dirt standing there welcoming people to town forever."