Prince Rupert’s electorate may have to cast a vote for more than just city councillors and school trustees in this November’s municipal elections.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, council passed the third reading on three referendum questions. It also discussed the possibility of including a plebiscite on the November ballot.
The referendums concern borrowing money to build new facilities for the fire department and police station. Council passed three readings for three possible referendum questions: to construct a new fire hall, to construct a new police station, or to construct a facility that would house both the fire hall and police station. This doesn’t necessarily mean there will be three questions on the ballot; it simply means council has left the door open to choose none or all of the questions.
Now, it’s up to the inspector of municipalities to approve or deny the request for a referendum. If it’s approved, it’s up to Rupert’s administration to craft the question(s) and council to approve them.
If the questions do appear on the ballot, and they’re approved, the new facilities would come at a high cost. The table below shows the estimated cost for all three options, and the corresponding potential property tax increase.
The cost of safety
|Building||Estimated cost||Estimated tax increase|
|Fire hall||$9.3 million||5.41%|
|Police station||$12.3 million||7.15%|
|Fire hall + police station||$21.7 million||12.56%|
Source: Agenda from council meeting for Sept. 19, 2011
Even if the referendums pass, it doesn’t force council to follow the wishes of the electorate; but it would probably be political suicide if councillors went against the vote.
According to a report by the chief financial officer, an architectural study showed both the fire hall and police station suffer from many deficiencies. Among the problems are:
- structural problems, like leaky roofs and damaged plumbing;
- insufficient interior and exterior space;
- long-overdue seismic upgrades.
The plebiscite, on the other hand, is more of a poll to gauge voters’ opinions on a particular issue. At Monday night’s council meeting, council approved a possible question to ask voters if they agreed with raising property taxes by 4.5 per cent, with the revenue going specifically to road reconstruction. Council, particularly Mayor Jack Mussallem, has repeatedly called for improvements to the city’s infrastructure.
Dan Rodin, the chief financial officer for the City, said administration has already looked at a number of sites around town as potential sites for the new fire hall/police station building. He could not say, however, if the site would be selected before the referendum.
Rodin said council had looked at possibly renovating both the fire hall and police station, but concluded the costs were too high. He also said renovating wouldn’t solve the problem of insufficient space.
Rodin also said the issue will probably arise at the next few council meetings leading up to the election. “This is a significant question for the community,” he said.
The referendum questions, if approved by council, would have to be crafted by the middle of October.
-Written by Chris Armstrong
*And, in answer to any grammar geeks out there: “referendums” and “referenda” are both acceptable as the plural for “referendum.”