Waters: West Kelowna referendum result reveals community divide

Finding more space for city staff is one thing, uniting a divided city is quite another for a beleaguered city council.

Al Waters

The people have spoken— and in the case of those opposing West Kelowna’s bid to borrow $7.7 million help pay for a new stand-alone city hall, 27 voices spoke the loudest.

As they are wont to do in West Kelonwa, Saturday’s city hall referendum was a close one, following on the heels of the 2007 incorporation vote that just squeaked through and another close vote when the city adopted its West Kelowna name in 2009.

While the result has set city council back on it’s heels, more importantly the failed drive to create a “civic centre” in Westbank has divided the community for the third time in nine years.

The result of the vote—no city hall, no civic plaza, no new home for Interior Health Services on the Westside and no catalyst for economic development in West Kelowna’s Westbank town centre—will be felt for years to come.

Opponents may have been concerned about taxes going up—something the city denied would happen—or West Kelonwa taking on more debt, but now they will be faced with additional costs to pay for ways to house the growing staff the city says is needed to deliver adequate services to residents.

It also means those looking for more recreation space in the city will have to wait as the current municipal offices that take up space at the Mt. Boucherie Recreation Complex are not going anywhere.

So the question is: What’s next?

Undoubtedly the city will have to move more portables onto the Mt.Bo site to house city workers and space will remain at a premium.

Taxes won’t go down as a result of referendum result to defeat the borrowing proposal and the use of $7.1 million of city reserves, and life will continue as it has.

The contamination of the referendum campaign by the issue of crummy water coming out of the Rose Valley reservoir likely played a role is turning some against the city hall plan.

Try as they might, Yes campaign officials failed to convince enough people that the city reserves being earmarked to bolster the requested borrowing was not the same money that would be used to improve the Lakeview system’s water.

And Mayor Doug Findlater, who more than anyone carried the ball for the Yes campaign, likely inadvertently hurt the Yes campaign by saying he wanted to see the Lakeview water issue dealt with sooner rather than later.

While it’s great for the affected residents that he has that view, expressing during the referendum campaign only seemed to create an expectation (incorrectly) that more could be done sooner to deal with the water quality issue, so why was the city planning to spend millions on a new city hall.

But, as Findlater tried to explain many times, general taxation will not pay for the water improvements, the users of the system will through user fees, along with the any grants the city can get its hands on.

In the end, the referendum result appears to have come down to the city’s—not the Yes camapign’s—ability to convince the public what it was saying was true.

But if people just do not want to believe then they won’t. And that’s what happened here.

The key now is uniting a divided city.

Given the split Saturday, that may prove to be a even bigger task than winning approval to build a new city hall.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the CapitalNews.