The City of Fernie will hold a referendum before borrowing money for the multi-purpose community centre.
On Monday night, council was asked to consider the electoral approval process for the project, which will merge and replace current community and recreation facilities, and attach to the Fernie Aquatic Centre.
The multi-purpose community centre is currently estimated to cost $72.5 million.
The City has applied to two funding streams, which offer cost-sharing grants with a maximum senior government contribution of between 73.33 and 90 per cent.
While the City is in the process of identifying fundraising opportunities to avoid raising taxes, it must prove it is capable of covering its share of the project if successful for a grant.
The Loan Authorization Bylaw to authorize the borrowing of $19,324,204 will fulfill that component and received three readings in February.
However, the prospect of the City borrowing such a large sum of money has caused angst in the community, with a petition calling for a referendum garnering over 500 signatures.
The petition is being spearheaded by Fernie man David Gildea, who attended Monday’s meeting and urged council to seriously consider a referendum during the public input period.
They did, debating the two options for elector approval put forward by Director of Corporate Administration Services Suzanne Garand.
She explained assent voting – often referred to as a referendum – is a voting process similar to an election, with a Chief Election Officer and Deputy Chief Election Officer to oversee the process, and the outcome to be decided by majority vote.
This option is estimated to cost $14,000-$17,000.
The second option is alternative approval process, which is similar to a petition. If 10 per cent or more of the eligible voters sign and submit response forms stating they are opposed to the Loan Authorization Bylaw, the City cannot proceed without an assent vote.
Mayor Ange Qualizza said while there are many unknowns surrounding the project, including the final cost, design and the outcome of the City’s grant application, she wanted to bring this matter forward to show the community “what process we will be in favour of”.
Director of Community Services Marta Proctor explained this would help clarify the approval process for the community, indicating a report on alternative funding options will soon be brought forward to Committee of the Whole.
Councillor Kevin McIsaac said he felt a decision on the elector approval process was premature and he would prefer to wait until council had more information.
He tried to defer a decision, however, the amended motion was voted down by Qualizza and councillors Phil Iddon, Morgan Pulsifer and Troy Nixon.
Iddon sympathized with McIsaac’s view but said “if we are fortunate enough to get it (grant funding), the number is going to be big enough to have people vote on it”.
After much discussion, council unanimously voted in favour of assent voting.
This means that if the City is successful in securing grant funding for the multi-purpose community centre, it will hold a referendum to seek electoral approval before borrowing any money or doing further work on the project.