Opposing views: Both sides trying to make a case in West Kelowna’s city hall referendum

West Kelowna voters will be asked Saturday if they approve of the city borrowing $7.7 million for the $14 million city hall project.

An artist's rendition of the proposed new West Kelowna city hall.

On Saturday, West Kelowna residents will be asked to approve the city borrowing $7.7 million to help pay for a new, $14.8 million, three-storey, stand-alone city hall.

And, like the two referendums held before it in West Kelowna — the 2007 vote to incorporate and the 2009 vote to change the name of the municipality to West Kelowna — this one has proven to be just as divisive in the community.

In 2007, incorporation won out over amalgamating with Kelowna by a narrow margin — just 342 votes. Two years later, the name West Kelowna was chosen over Westbank by an even closer 166 votes.

While the outcome of Saturday’s city hall vote, with the entire project hanging in the balance, is now in the hands of voters, both the Yes and No sides have been vocal during the campaign.

For the Yes side, the reasoning is clear. It says the city has outgrown its municipal offices in the Mt. Boucherie Recreation Centre with a growing staff working for a growing city.

The proposed new building is being overbuilt with a third floor that will provide enough space for years to come. It will be part of a bigger civic complex that will include a civic plaza and have an amalgamated Westside Interior Health Services location in an adjacent, privately-owned building on the site.

It will also allow the city to return the existing space it occupies at Mt. Boucherie to its original intended use — community recreation.

A total of $800,000 has been set aside for that conversion.

For the No side, the reasoning is not so clear cut.

It says the proposal is in the wrong place — one block off Main Street on Elliott Road in downtown Westbank — will cost too much because the city plans to use up to $7.1 million of its reserves to help pay for it and, now is not the time to spend the money.

In recent weeks, the No side has been bolstered by ongoing problems with water quality in the Lakeview water system.

High turbidity levels have some residents questioning the spending on a city hall. They have linked the water quality issue to the city hall proposal, despite the city going to great lengths to explain the two issues are separate.

As recently as this week, Mayor Doug Findlater was on local radio trying to convince one caller to a panel discussion on the city hall project that water treatment for the Lakeview system—which includes thousands of connections in Lakeview Heights, Rose Valley and Shannon Lake—is being looked at, water is funded by system users not general taxation and the cost of a new city hall will not come out of any reserves or revenues collected to improve the quality of water coming from the Rose Valley Reservoir for the Lakeview system.

But the caller, and others in the community, appear to refuse to accept that explanation.

Others who oppose the plan have said they fear taxes will go up if the city hall plan is approved.

Once again, the city has repeatedly said that is not the case because the plan calls for borrowing to be covered from a sizeable surplus generated last year thanks to several city projects either coming in under-budget or being put on hold for other reasons, and the use of reserves already earmarked for the city hall plan.

Opposition, however, has appeared to gain some traction as the countdown to referendum day continued.

Some in the city have questioned the loss of interest that the reserve money to be used would have accumulated and others don’t like the location, saying other city-owned land should be used.

Whlie the site on Elliott Road is partially owned by the city, it will have to buy a small piece from the private developer of the rest of the site because some of the city’s land is needed for a road extension across the site.

The proposed project calls for the city hall building and a civic plaza, as well as three privately-owned buildings, one commercial and two residential.

The commercial building would house the amalgamated Interior Health services on the on two floors of the five-storey building.

IH says its existing offices on Carrington Road in Westbank are too small for its current operation and several other services scattered throughout the city would be brought into the new location.

The private developer has said that without the city hall, the project is a non-starter.

While West Kelowna council has repeatedly stressed that proceeding with the city hall plan will not affect projects already in its 10-year capital plan or the numerous master plans it has in place to address issues such as water, it says the need for a new city hall is not something that can be put off any longer — at least not without unnecessary expense to try and improve working conditions for staff at the existing cramped Mt. Boucherie offices.

An estimated $250,000 will have to be spent on more portables to house city workers if the city hall plan is rejected and the $400,000 spent over the last three years to come up with the city hall plan will have been spent for nothing.

During the last municipal election, the mayor and all but one of the current councillors were asked about, and supported a plan for a new city hall.

The Yes side says a No vote will not keep the status quo, it will prompt more spending on a space that all seem to agree will need to be replaced one day. So, after nine years as a municipality, West Kelowna once again faces a crossroads.

But given the past voting divide of the city—often along geographical lines with those at the south (Westbank) end voting one way and those at the north (Lakeview Heights) end voting another, all signs are point to another ballot collision.

Whether the result will be as close as the previous two votes remains to be seen but judging by letters to the editor, comments on local call-in shows and social media posts, geography may not be the factor this time it was in the past votes.

Once again it shows when it comes to any vote in West Kelowna, nothing is a slam dunk.

 

Where, when and who gets to vote:

The second day of advance voting in West Kelowna’s city hall referendum on Tuesday, saw 1,544 ballots cast.

That followed the first advance poll last week when 1,597 votes were cast.

The two-day total of 3,141 ballots cast represents just over 12 per cent of eligible voters (26,034).

By comparison just over 400 voted in the first day of advance polling in the last municipal election in West Kelowna.

General voting day is Saturday, Sept. 17 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at: Const. Neil Bruce Middle School, George Pringle Elementary, Glenrosa Middle School and Mar Jok Elementary.

All voters will register at the polling station on the day they vote by bringing two pieces of ID, one with a signature and one with an address.

Voters must be 18 years of age or older, a Canadian citizen, a B.C. resident for at least six months prior to voting, a resident or registered property owner of real property in West Kelowna for at least 30 days before voting and disqualified from voting under the Local Government Act.

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