LAKE COUNTRY - Stung by a defeat they didn’t see coming, Lake Country government will be pushing hard to win the April referendum on the purchase of the CN Rail corridor.
Mayor James Baker said the referendum format prescribed by Elections B.C. will allow the municipality to promote the $2.6-million purchase in a way they couldn’t under the terms of the alternative approval process and force opponents to identify themselves if campaigning against it.
“With a referendum, you have to say who you are. You can’t have third party campaigning without saying where the money supporting it comes from,” said Baker, who added he will talk to any group that invites him about the rail corridor.
“It was just misleading, bringing in issues that had nothing to do with the corridor,” he added. "Under the AAP, you didn’t have to identify yourself and you could walk around and say anything.”
In particular, Baker said he will be free to counter the idea Lake Country has the highest per capita debt load in B.C. and is $160 million in debt for unfunded liability tied to sub-par roads and sewers.
“There’s a deficit in terms of what we have to spend on them but we’re doing it within our operations budget. All communities operate with a certain amount of borrowing,” he said. “As for us being the most indebted community, that’s simply not true. It’s an asset like buying a house. People hold mortgages and buy when the opportunity is there and pay for it later.”
With 10 per cent of Lake Country already having once voted no in the alternative approval process, those opposed to the deal could be seen as having a head start, but Baker chooses to view it the other way. “Well, that means 90 per cent haven’t said no,” he said. “It’s harder to persuade people not to vote no, than it is to persuade them to vote yes."
Lake Country will spend $10,00 conducting the referendum which will include a district-wide advance poll at the muncipal hall on April 15 plus polling stations in each ward on April 25.
Lake Country is hoping to participate with Kelowna and Coldstream, as well as the North and Central Okanagan regional districts, in the shared purchase of the CN Rail corridor running from Kelowna to Coldstream, decommissioned last year after sub-leasee Kelowna Pacific Railway went under.
CN Rail has agreed to sell the railroad right-of-way to the communities for $50 million, of which $28 million is in the form of a charitable donation tax receipt. The balance is split between the three communities based on the amount of land within their boundaries. Lake Country’s share is $5.1 million, of which it planned to borrow $2.6 million while Kelowna paid for the other half, allowing the district to pay it back over an unspecified time.
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