City council has decided to scrap a referendum to ask Rupertites if they wanted the city to borrow money in order to replace either the RCMP station, the firehall or both.
For the city to be able to borrow the several million dollars that it would take to replace any of those buildings they need to have a borrowing bylaw approved by voters. Initially, the council decided to use the upcoming municipal election to do the referendum vote thereby saving money that would be required to organize a separate vote. That idea was scrapped by the council on Tuesday night because they believed that there was not enough time for them to properly inform voters about the projects and their necessity before the vote happens.
“After continuing to consider the referendum questions that were put forward and weighing what the cost to do this with this election or at another time, I simply feel that we have not come as far as we should with a question like this before we take it to the community,” says councillor Sheila Gordon-Payne.
Councillor Gordon-Payne worries that if voters are not properly informed they may make a decision that is not in the community’s best interest, such as simply voting against borrowing the money because of the building’s large price tags or voting just to build the cheapest one, which might not be the building that is most urgently needed by the community.
Her concerns were echoed by the other councillors.
“I do agree that we do not at this time have the information we need to go out and ask the public to vote on this. We don’t even have the information we need to go out and have public information sessions . . . And if we’re really looking to get the best bang for our buck and making sure the community is fully informed about this we need to make sure that we do our homework before we go to the public,” says Councillor Anna Ashley.
The original plan was to have three potential borrowing bylaws for voters to approve on election day. One was to borrow $12.3-million for a new headquarters for the RCMP. The second was to borrow $9.3-million to build a new fire hall. And the third was to borrow 21.7-million to build a joint building that could be used by both organizations. All of these options would require an increase in the city’s property taxes that could range from 5.4 to 12.5 per cent.
The council also said part of their decision to scrap the referendum for now is that many other options other than just borrowing money for the new buildings. Other options that can be looked into are public-private partnerships, alternative funding sources such as grants, and some “regional options” were also talked about.
Inspector Bob Killbery from the Prince Rupert RCMP says that he’s disappointed that the council has opted to delay addressing the issue, but says that he understands and appreciates their reasons for doing so.
“I can see where they’re coming from, but I’m disappointed that it’s not moving as quickly as we would like, but I also understand that there’s a process that needs to be followed if there is to be any chance of success in getting a referendum passed. They need as much information as possible and the public needs as much information as possible,” says Killbery.
Fire Chief Dave McKenzie declined to comment on the council’s decision until he gets more information on how things are to proceed.
What’s up in the air at this point is when progress on this will actually happen. Council was sure to point out that it wants to put the issue before voters eventually, but not during this upcoming election. City administration believes that it will not be able to piggyback the vote on the 2013 provincial election, so it appears that the city will have to pay to organize and staff a separate vote whenever they decide to have it.
The next council will most likely have to come up with a new RCMP building within the next two years though.
The city is obligated to under its policing agreement to provide adequate facilities for the RCMP to work out of. If the police feel that the city is not providing that they can send an annual letter to the provincial government saying so. After 3 years of giving the province notice the RCMP is allowed to construct its own building without the input of the municipality or the local RCMP detachment. The city would then be obligated to foot the bill for the new building.
One of those letters has already been sent, giving the city with only two years left to address the problem.
“If we do all vote in favour of this motion [to postpone the referendum] our inspector from the RCMP i will naturally give us a second letter and the following year give us the third letter and pretty soon they’ll build their own building and we’ll just pay for it. That will happen, and I think our intent is to not allow that to happen but to proceed in a planned way,” says councillor Gordon-Payne.
Inspector Killbery points out that he does not send the violation of agreement letters himself, but it is done by the RCMP headquarters in Vancouver.
The current RCMP building and firehall have an abundance of issues which that police and firefighters say are no longer adequate. The buildings suffer from everything from structural problems to simply not being too outdated for use with the new realities of 21st century policing and firefighting. The Prince Rupert Northern View did our own inspection of the buildings and their problems. Click here to see the findings of our inspection.