May 04, 2016 - 12:57 PM
WEST KELOWNA - Mayor Doug Findlater and West Kelowna city council may have approved borrowing the money to build a new city hall, but a group dedicated to stopping it says they have all the signatures they need to halt the project.
Council wants to build a 32,215-square-foot hall along with office spaces, two residential buildings and a public plaza on a privately owned lot on Elliot Road. The projected cost would be just under $32 million. $10.5 million of that would come from taxpayers, upon their approval.
An alternative approval process was undertaken to get approval for borrowing the $10.5 million needed to move forward with the project. Unless 10 per cent of voters register opposition to the debt, the city can move ahead with the borrowing.
West Kelowna resident Greg Hendrickson is one of the taxpayers who does not approve and is at the forefront of an effort to get signatures from 10 per cent of the 26,000 voters before the deadline at 4 p.m. yesterday, May 3.
He says although it wasn't easy, they have been successful.
"We are still counting but we have over 2,000," he says. "The referendum is going ahead or they are going to have to scrap the whole thing."
The next step will be a verification process to ensure all signatures are valid. If they are, council's only options are to either abandon the project or hold a referendum.
Hendrickson says he and others he spoke with feel the money is better spent on badly-needed infrastructure upgrades.
"They want to spend $10.5 million on a building instead of spending on improving on the way we get around," he says. "People are walking their dogs at night with no sidewalks, no streetlights, they have to stay on a narrow bit of gravel to be safe."
Mayor Doug Findlater, who has supported the project from the beginning, has refused any media interviews until after an official press release is sent out. Communications coordinator Kirsten Jones confirmed signatures were received before the deadline but they are not ready to release numbers.
This could be a major blow to Findlater and council, as they have already announced initial sketches of the building, made arrangements with the owner of the land and courted Interior Health as a keystone tenant.
Findlater said at the time he was excited about the project.
“The vision council had is within our reach," he said. "We are particularly excited about the prospect that we will not only have more people living and working in West Kelowna’s downtown, but there will be centralized health services with room to grow, meeting another of our community’s long-time wishes."
Hendrickson says council was a little too excited and forgot that a large portion of the funds would come from taxpayers like him.
"When they ran for election they did not put that on their platform. Then to ram it through with an alternative approval process is dishonest.”
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