City of Fernie to Launch Referendum on Borrowing Money for New Multi-Purpose Community Centre

The proposed layout of the $79.9-million Multi-Purpose Community Centre in Fernie (Supplied by City of Fernie.)

Depending on which grant the City of Fernie can get, taxpayers could still be on the hook for over $19-million as the "worst case scenario".

Fernie City Council is continuing to move ahead with plans to build a new community centre that would include a 1,200 seat ice arena with six changing rooms, a new curling rink with four ice sheets, and a new 11,200 square foot gymnasium. More details on the proposed facility here.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $79.9-million, so to help cover that, the City has applied for two grants from the provincial government - the Culture and Recreation Infrastructure (CCRI) program and the Rural and Northern Communities (RNC) program.

"One of them provides 75% of the project cost and the other 90%, so we, council, went through a loan authorization bylaw process, so our worst case scenario is that we have authorized [the] borrowing of $19,342,204, so that's based on the $75% funding opportunity," says Mayor Ange Qualizza.

The grant from the CCRI would result in a tax increase to homeowners in Fernie of 18.1%, while the RNC grant would bump up taxes by 6.8%.

Before any loans can be approved, however, the municipality first needs to get approval from the residents of Fernie.

One option council had was to go through an Alternative Approval Process (AAP), which would see those in opposition to borrowing money write into the district.

The other is an Assent Vote, which is more commonly known as a referendum, which allows everyone to vote on the matter regardless of which side they are on.

Qualizza says council voted unanimously to go with a referendum.

"For really significant decisions that impact the community, assent voting is sort of very subtly recommended [by the B.C. Government], and I think council has always wanted to make sure that when we move through the process of getting permission from the community to borrow, we wanted to make sure we gave everyone the same opportunity to vote."

She tells Summit 107 that a report from 2013 found that the existing curling rink, arena, community centre were already past their best-before date.

At this time, the City of Fernie does not know when they would hear back from the province on whether they were successful in getting either grant, so while Qualizza says they will not be able to formally start the referendum process just yet, she wanted to give the public as much time as possible to look more deeply into the proposed multi-purpose community centre.

The City of Fernie is expected to pay between $14,000 and $17,000 for the referendum.

Audio: Ange Qualizza, Mayor, City of Fernie

More from East Kootenay News