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District of Squamish public works facility loan approved second time around

After being denied permission for the loan earlier this year, municipality secures authorization in a do-over vote.

Second time’s a charm.

After council called for a second alternative approval process, a loan authorization to fund a new public works facility has passed.

On Sept. 6, council adopted a bylaw that would authorize the borrowing of $20.2 million to pay for the creation of a new public works facility. The municipality has identified that building as an aging structure that is in critical need of being replaced.

“I…think we’ve learned a lot from how to counteract misinformation and also making sure that we’re ready to fill the void when our community’s asking for information,” said Mayor Karen Elliott. “I think that was a valuable lesson for us all to learn. And a process like an [alternative approval process], which hasn’t been challenged since they began in the 1990s, was a bit of a wake-up call.”

Elliott was referring to the lead-up to this motion, which previously saw a proposal to borrow money for a public works facility rejected before being authorized this time around.

Back in March, in an extremely rare showing, about 1,700 people voted against the proposal to borrow about $16 million to fund the replacement of the public works facility.

When municipalities propose pricey loans, they often must undergo an alternative approval process, or AAP. This allows the public to cast votes against the proposal. If people do not vote, it is assumed they are giving their consent to the idea. Should 10% of a municipality’s population vote against a proposal, it does not pass. Instead, it is forced to go to a referendum.

Alternatively, the municipality may put forth another AAP proposal and hope that it will receive approval.

Loan authorizations for basic infrastructure such as a public works facility often sail through alternative approval processes with little to no opposition.

However, in this case, there was an outpouring of dissent from some residents in the community, with a few complaining there wasn’t enough transparency or information given about the project.

Faced with that first failing result, council elected to initiate another alternative approval process during the summer. They also increased the proposed amount of borrowing to $20.2 million. An information campaign was launched to convince residents of the importance of the public works facility.

It was hoped that the public would better receive this second attempt, and judging by the results, it was. Only seven people voted against the borrowing proposal during the second AAP between late June and early August.

As a result, the municipality now has the authority to borrow $20.2 million to build a new public works facility.

Elliott called this development an important milestone for this council.

“Our strategic plan had us shovel-ready or beyond on three critical municipal projects,” she said. “With this passing, we’ve hit that milestone, so that feels really good. And these plans can move forward heading into the fall.”

Coun. Jenna Stoner said there was a co-ordinated attempt to deny the loan the first time.

“I think it’s very telling that we only received seven responses to our second attempt at the alternative approval process,” said Stoner. “And, to me, that really just speaks very loudly to how much of a concerted effort there was to fail the first alternative approval process.”

She noted the initial rejection of the project cost $500,000. Staff previously reported that this increase was the result of delaying construction.

Coun. Chris Pettingill had similar sentiments.

“I think it is really frustrating that there was a direct effort to cause us to fail that cost our community half a million dollars,” said Pettingill.

“But I think our learning in that, too... I think what we’ve demonstrated through our engagement is the public’s willingness or even desire to have that engagement with us.”

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