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District of Squamish asks a second time to borrow money for public works facility

In a rare occurrence, the municipality initiates another alternative approval process just months after it was denied permission to borrow millions.
Works yard
The proposed new public works yard.

Here we go again.

As of June 21, the District has officially put the public works facility overhaul up to an alternative approval process, or AAP, for the second time since March.

All on council voted unanimously in favour of this motion, which seeks permission to borrow $20.2 million to build a new facility.

“Borrowing, I think, is the way forward for this project, as people benefiting from having this facility should be the ones paying for it — not just the current taxpayers,” said Coun. Armand Hurford. “As we grow, it allows this project’s cost to be spread out amongst the future residents as well as those that are here today.”

Elected officials have said that this facility will be built regardless of whether voters object to borrowing money for the project, because the upgrade is required to deliver basic services such as sewer and water. Borrowing, however, was said to be the easier option on residents’ wallets when compared with raising taxes.

Squamish residents previously voted against the proposal for a new structure in March, throwing the District’s financial plans off course.

During that first alternative approval process, about 1,700 Squamish residents voted to deny the municipality permission to borrow about $16 million for a new public works facility. This money would’ve gone to replacing the aging public works building that has been identified by officials as being at critical end-of-life status.

The roughly 1,700 ballots represented about 10% of the town’s voting population, which is the threshold needed to trigger a referendum on the matter. 

An AAP is held in certain cases, such as when the municipality seeks to take out a big loan for a project.

In these scenarios, if 10% of the voting population casts their ballots against the idea, then the proposal must go to a referendum. If less than 10% of voters show up, then the proposal goes ahead.

There is, however, another option for elected officials if their borrowing request gets denied.

They can hold another AAP, hoping the public will now be more receptive to the idea. In this case, that’s what Squamish’s politicians decided to do.

However, they’ve changed their approach with this attempt.

This time around, they’ve implemented an extensive information campaign with the goal of convincing voters that the loan is absolutely necessary. The public works facility is central to the municipality providing its most basic services.

“I do encourage anybody that has questions about this process, exactly what we’re trying to do, and exactly what this money will be used for, to reach out,” said Coun. John French. 

“There are a lot of resources out there now. First time around, there was less information, and this time around, we’re making sure that all of the questions are answered.”

Coun. Jenna Stoner also shared similar thoughts.

“This is a common process that we use to secure borrowing, especially for critical needs projects like the public works facility,” said Stoner. “So I look forward to answering any questions that our community members may have around why we’re borrowing this money.”

Previously, the municipality issued the basic standard notices required by law for AAPs without much more of an explanation.

That’s because the denial of a loan for a public works facility is so rare that officials anticipated it would move smoothly through the AAP process as usual.

However, they realized in March that a number of residents were opposed to the idea — enough to throw a wrench into what is normally a routine administrative procedure.

There’s another change this time around as well. The municipality is asking for more money, as the costs for the facility have gone up.

The current proposed loan authorization bylaw is prompting residents for permission to borrow $20.2 million, up from the previous $16 million. 

The deadline for residents who are opposed to weigh in by submitting a response form is 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4.

Electors who are in favour of the bylaw do not have to submit any forms.

For more information, go to the District's website

If the results of this AAP yield another rejection, the matter will be put to a referendum on municipal voting day, which is Oct. 15.


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