Squamish is looking to embark in the largest community amenities project in the District’s 40 year history.
If approved, Squamish could see the construction of a second ice rink, an arts centre, a seniors centre, an artificial turf field and track, a youth gymnasium and other projects.
The total price tag for the proposed mega project is $20 million. A referendum will be held in February or March to see if Squamish taxpayers like the idea.
It’s a one-shot package deal that Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland says the community wants.
"The cost to the average taxpayer would be $160 per year," Sutherland said. "That’s the equivalent of a pizza a month."
But the project is not sitting well with one Squamish councilor. Corrine Lonsdale points out that these are amenities and Squamish should look after other projects first.
"We need a new fire hall," said Lonsdale. "We all know how expensive police stations are (referring to the new station at Highway 99 across from the business park) how much are new fire halls?
"We have to remember that these are only amenities and if my home needs a new roof and my gazebo in the back yard needs repair, I’m going to fix my roof first."
Lonsdale’s also worried about the increased tax burden and how it’s being presented to voters.
"That $160 is not per house it’s per average dwelling in Squamish, which is likely a townhome or a condominium. There are very few houses that are assessed at $269,000. The tax per residence is around 62 cents for every $1,000 your home is assessed at. That's a fairer way of putting it," said Lonsdale.
Which means a house worth $400,000 would be assessed an additional $248 per year.
"It’s a whole lot more than $160," Lonsdale said. "We need to make sure people understand that it’s 62 cents per thousand."
Lonsdale says she's concerned about taxes going up even further once the amenities are built. She’s worried about the operating cost of the amenities and the loss of further business tax revenue.
"Interfor is gone and so are the taxes they used to bring in," Lonsdale said. "If Western Forest Products left tomorrow, that $2 million we’d have to find real fast."
She also noted school enrolment is down and wondered if there would be sufficient demand for the new park.
However, Councillor Ray Peters countered that "Houses are being built left, right and centre, the tax base will grow."
Lonsdale also wonders how the District came up with the $20 million figure. During Tuesday night’s council meeting she asked Sutherland for a breakdown on what each individual project would cost.
"The amenities bylaw prohibits us from breaking down what each amenity would cost. So essentially, we are asking the residents of Squamish to let us borrow $20 million without telling them how we will spend it," Lonsdale asked.
"That’s right," replied Sutherland.
The mayor then predicted a yes vote in February’s referendum.
"We will decide as a council before the next election how we will spend the $20 million," said Sutherland.
Lonsdale’s motion to get a breakdown of building and operational costs of each amenity failed by a vote of 5-2. Councilor Raj Kahlon voted with her.