The referendum question that will be posed to eligible Peachland voters on Oct. 15 received approval from town council Tuesday night.
When residents vote in the 2022 general election this fall, in addition to voting for a mayor, councillors and a school trustee, they’ll also be presented with a referendum question that will appear as follows:
“Are you in favour of The Corporation of the District of Peachland adopting the Protective Services Building Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 2364, 2022, to authorize the borrowing of up to Seventeen Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($17,500,000), over a thirty (30) year term, to fund the construction of a new Protective Services Building to accommodate the fire department?”
The bylaw was given third reading at the June 28 council meeting. Next a referendum or assent voting is required to obtain long-term borrowing approval from the electors for the fire hall project. Assent of the electors is obtained if a majority of the votes counted are in favour of the bylaw or question.
If elector assent is obtained and the bylaw is subsequently adopted by the next council, it would allow the town to borrow up to $17.5 million for a protective services building to house the fire department, Peachland Community Policing, and possibly the local ambulance service. It might also provide a small office for the RCMP as well.
Holding the referendum in conjunction with the local election will save the town about $25,000, according to CAO Joe Creron.
If the referendum fails, then at that point the fire hall project won’t be able to proceed. If the referendum is successful, the bylaw will still need to be given a fourth and final reading from the next council before borrowing can go ahead.
A new building for the fire department, called a Protection Services Building by the municipality because it isn’t yet determined if the ambulance service will be included, is estimated to cost about $20 million, although about 30 per cent of that cost is contingency.
If the town borrows the full $17.5 million there would be a significant tax impact.
The maximum estimated cost per household is $401 annually in the form of a parcel tax, which would be $34 per month for 30 years, at an assumed rate of 4.3 per cent. That estimate is based on the current number of properties within the district so those costs will decrease with an increase of households and development.
About $200 in parcel taxes will be removed in the near future, including a sewer main force parcel tax that’s been in place since 1998 and set to expire in 2023.
The town’s finance director says that means effectively there would only be a $200 increase in parcel tax.
Back in June Creron said that after the referendum they may choose to delay construction of the building for a while to work out partnerships, get grant funding or wait for more parcel taxes to fall off in order to “bring this in so it’s affordable”.
The intention is to phase in the parcel tax over a period of time.
“I’d like to remind listeners that this is a bit of a pre-application for a mortgage. It does not necessarily mean that this amount of money will be technically borrowed. It means we’re testing our ability to borrow this amount,” said Coun. Terry Condon.
Currently the fire department is located on 3rd St but the plan is to construct a new building on a lot the district owns at San Clemente Ave and 13th St.
The municipality says improved community safety is the number one reason for relocating the fire department to a larger, more centralized location.
Relocating next to the highway would improve emergency response times as currently paid-on-call firefighters must travel through traffic-calmed Beach Ave to get to the fire hall and once they’ve found a parking spot, fire trucks must also leave through Beach Ave, where the speed limit is just 30 km/h.
Peachland fire chief Dennis Craig estimates the advantages of the new location would improve response times by two to three minutes.
The fire department’s current building, Station 21, is about 60 years old and was never designed to be a fire hall. Originally it housed the public works department and later morphed into a fire station.
An open house was held last month but only 31 members of the public attended. A second public engagement session will take place prior to the referendum.
Those who missed the open house can view the information package at peachland.ca/firehall.