Updated: Group claims it has support to force reconsideration of West Kelowna city hall plan

West Kelowna Citizens For A Free Vote say they have delivered nearly double the required number of AAP signatures to the city.

Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the City of West Kelowna said it was still verifying the forms submitted for the alternative approval process concerning its desire to borrow $10.5 million for construction of a new city hall in Westbank. A spokeswoman for the city said she anticipated releasing the final number of valid forms received Thursday morning.

Original story: The man leading the effort to force West Kelowna to reconsider its plan for a new city hall building says his group has easily surpassed the number of signatures needed on official alternate approval process forms to stall the city’s borrowing plan for the project.

Ian Graham, representing The West Kelowna Citizens for a Free Vote, delivered the last of the signatures his group collected over the last 40 days to the municipal offices Tuesday—the final day of the AAP—and said combined with signatures already delivered to city hall 3,920 were gathered. If that number is holds true, it would easily surpass the 2,600 signatures (10 per cent of eligible voters) required to force reconsideration.

On Wednesday the city said it was verifying the signatures submitted by Graham’s group.

“It’s not that the (residents) didn’t want a new city hall, it was the fact that the city council wanted to use a backdoor, and from our point of view, an un-democratic, Alternate Approval Process to borrow the money rather than do what most of the (residents) wanted which is a proper and full referendum at election time,” Graham said.

He said West Kelowna residents have watched the adjacent City of Kelowna borrow approximately $150 million through AAP-approved projects and do not want that happening in West Kelowna, which only incorporated eight years ago.

“The taxpayers are the ones who ultimately have to pay for all the borrowing and it can add up very quickly” said Graham.

The West Kelowna Citizens for a Free Vote says it believes the city has engineers, designers, and inspectors who are more than capable of developing and/or reviewing many types of projects and should not engage consultants or developers to provide required advice.

“We hope that the city council will heed our vote and, hopefully, only seek funding for such buildings at election time after full, detailed, investigated, and costed disclosure, not just provide general information for the citizens” said Graham.

If Graham’s bid is successful, it will not kill the project—which calls for a new West Kelowna city hall in Westbank as part of a larger development that would include private commercial buildings and the home of a new health centre—it would merely send it back to council for a reconsideration as to how to proceed. The city has said a referendum on the issue would cost an estimated $40,000.

“Our city council works very hard and we appreciate its efforts. However, having the city go into debt for non-emergency projects is not what we taxpayers’ desire,” said Graham. “The current city hall (offices at the Mt. Boucherie Recreation complex) do need more space and we ask the city to accommodate a larger staff through short-term leasing of additional space until funding can be saved to pay for a new city hall.”

He estimated that with council’s recent unanimous vote approving a three per cent average municipal  tax increase as part of the 2016 budget, along with his group’s belief the city should seek ways to reduce costs by using existing furniture, fixtures, and equipment, as well as currently owned and under-utilized land, it could save as much as $1.6 million.

“The city should have its new facility in a few short years,” Graham said.