Referendum on Pemberton field house looking likely 

Village working quickly to develop ballot question for provincial approval

click to enlarge Recreation referendum
  • Recreation referendum

Village of Pemberton residents can expect to be voting in a 2014 referendum to determine if the community is willing to finance a new field house.

Officials with the village are working on exactly what the question on the ballot will be.

During a Committee of the Whole session on Tuesday, Dec. 3, Pemberton council supported the pursuit of the field house through an incremental approach, which lawmakers felt would provide the best chance of meeting ambitious timelines set out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with two other partners earlier this year.

The recreation facility is tied to the development of the athletics-focused Hill Academy private school, which intends to establish a Pemberton campus in time for the 2015-16 school year. The MOU signed by the village, the academy and Sunstone Group, owners of the school site, calls for the field house to be completed by May 30, 2015.

"We have to move on this, and we don't have the luxury of waiting another year or two," Mayor Jordan Sturdy said after the Committee of the Whole meeting.

Council requested that staff bring back more information about initiating a referendum process, and to also develop possible ballot questions, for the next Committee of the Whole on Dec. 17. The hope is that a referendum question could be submitted to the provincial government for vetting and approval in early January. If that target is met, constituents would likely be going to the polls sometime in late spring or early summer to vote on a borrowing bylaw.

However, drafting a question is a challenge at this stage because partners and costs for the field house are still being finalized. It's unclear if Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Area C and the Mount Currie band are on board with the project, or if the final arrangement will come in the form of a public-private partnership (P3). In the case of a P3, a borrowing bylaw might not be required.

"A lot of this work is going to come down to a number of parallel process, because we can't really give an answer on which proposal you're ultimately going to be voting on until you're a little further down the road," said Sturdy.

Electoral assent for a borrowing bylaw could also be pursued through an Alternative Approval Process (AAP). In that approach, a referendum is only sparked if at least 10 per cent of the electorate requests one. However, Sturdy said council felt it would be most appropriate to take the issue directly to a vote.

"We're going to go the referendum route because we need to engage the community," said the mayor. "We need to understand what they want to do, and if they don't want to do it, they don't want to do it — fair enough. But let's get it out there and ask them the question."

A recreation facility feasibility study completed by Canlan Ice Sports for the village and Mount Currie earlier this year estimated the total capital cost of a standalone field house at $4.1 to $4.5 million. However, those figures do not represent the involvement of a private partner, and the study did not factor in the $1.8 million in amenity funding that can be collected for the facility through development permit requirements.

"There are many decisions between now and 2015 when we look at construction that need to take place," said chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland. "But the reality is the formal conversation around borrowing and debt has to start in January if we're going to meet our timelines."

The timelines established in the MOU set Jan. 10 as the target for the completion of the facility's design plans, while ownership arrangements and operation plans are due to be finished by the end of February.

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