August 12, 2015 - 4:33 PM
FEWER THAN 80 VOTES CAST FOR $8 MILLION DEBT
WESTBANK FIRST NATION - Band members voted last night to borrow money to cover debts and recover land at risk of being lost to a bank loan run up by partners in what they hoped would be Canada's first private hospital.
While the band itself has refused to provide an update, sources say 39 band members voted to borrow $8.05 million to pay out a mortage loan from Canadian Western Bank attached to the hospital lands. The loan will be amortized over 15 years. Another 29 band members voted for a second option for the band to create a wholly owned corporation to take on the debt and pay it back within five years. Nine ballots were rejected or spoiled.
Media are not allowed inside band meetings but members described another tense meeting as chief and council try to deal with the troubled project.
The debt stems from the band’s partnership in the Lake Okanagan Wellness Centre, a private hospital planned for community lands overlooking Okanagan Lake.
The band was supposed to put up a land lease on the 15-acre parcel as its share of the deal, but wound up owing $8 million when its partners stopped servicing the debt.
Some band members had previously criticized the lack of choices in dealing with the debt and launched an online petition calling more options and more time to consider them.
Band member Roxanne Lindley said the petition reached the required number of 40 signatures before the meeting and was presented to chief and council but it wasn’t acknowledged.
Lindley says the petition has now been filed and will be presented by director of operations Pat Fosberry at the next regular council meeting.
It’s not clear how quickly band administration will move to pay off the debt but Chief Robert Louie has said previously foreclosure on the land lease was imminent. Louie responded to a request for an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 12, with an email statement reinforcing the band's intention to pay off the debt.
"This is a private matter that is being worked out with WFN Membership, and as such, we are not able to provide results of the in camera vote results or minutes. Westbank First Nation is an honourable First Nation community and even though WFN did not guarantee the mortgage of these lands, the mortgage debts incurred by (the partner) will be indemnified by WFN. Last night’s vote allows WFN to move towards resolving this issue while keeping our business reputation in tact, and will pave the way for future developments of those lands," Louie said.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015