West Kelowna seeks more time to hold a referendum on borrowing for new city hall

After the Alternative Approval Process failed, council is a asking for an extra 80 days to hold the vote, which could go in late September.

West Kelowna will ask the province to give it an extension of the mandated 80 days in order to hold a referendum on borrowing $10.5 million to help pay for a new $14.8 million city hall.

The decision, by West Kelowna council Tuesday, came after 3,871 residents opposed the move under what is known as the Alternative Approval Process. That process puts the onus on opponents to gather more than 10 per cent of the signatures of eligible voters to make council reconsider a project.

If fewer than 2,603 signatures had been collected, the borrowing would have proceeded without a public vote.

Council opted to ask for an additional 80 days to hold the referendum—meaning a 160-day wait before the vote— so it would not be held in the middle of the summer and thus give more residents a chance to cast a ballots. If the extension is approved, the city hall borrowing referendum could be held by the end of September.

Councillor Rick de Jong was very vocal in making sure the referendum wasn’t held during summer, and he explained why.

“It’s very important to me that this referendum is open, transparent and availalbe to everyone,” de Jong said. “I want to see a strong turnout, and families have already planned holidays for July and August. That’s the one thing that resonated with me from the AAP process, that people want to have their voice heard.”

The new city hall, to be built and owned by the city as part of a larger development containing two residential buildings and an office building that would house a new West Kelowna IHA health centre, is slated for land in Westbank on Elliot Road.

While waiting for a decision by Victoria, the city plans to seek commitments from both the private developer and Interior Health that they will support councils move and will remain part of the plan.

Council could have dropped the city hall plan, postponed it until the next municipal election in 2018 and put it on the ballot or gone to a referendum in the summer. In the end, council decided to do a version of the last option but to ask the province for more time to hold the vote.

A referendum has been estimated to cost $40,000.

Last week, Mayor Doug Findlater said he felt a lot of the opposition to the AAP was aimed at using that process, not the project itself. Findlater admitted he was opposed to using the AAP but held just one vote on council and a majority wanted to use it to get the borrowing approved.

“What I’m hearing is (opponents) aren’t necessarily against the project but were against the AAP, which gives me hope for the project,” he told the Capital News last week.

He added the private portion of the project would likely factor into council’s decision about what to do next.

The man behind the defeat of the AAP, Ian Graham of West Kelowna Citizens for a Free Vote, has said he would like to see the city wait until it has more money set aside for the project and then put the issue to voters as part of the next municipal election.