October 07, 2015 - 11:30 AM
VERNON - Red tape continues to delay a borrowing referendum for a new ice rink in Vernon.
The North Okanagan Regional District still doesn’t have authorization from the provincial government to hold a referendum asking voters to borrow up to $13 million to decommission the aging Civic Arena and build a second ice sheet at Kal Tire Place.
Local government officials hoped to receive a green light from the province by Wednesday, Oct. 7 — the approximate deadline to organize the referendum for November — but the regional district’s chief administrative officer says the proposal still hasn’t been approved.
“We had a conversation with them yesterday and they’ve expressed some concerns with how it’s currently structured,” David Sewell says. “We’ve got some work to do. We’re going to try to turn this around quickly to give them assurances, but right now it’s still with the ministry as to whether they’ll approve it or not.”
The province has expressed concerns around ownership of the facility and liability, Sewell says. The proposal calls for the regional district to borrow the money for the new ice sheet, and eventually transfer ownership to the City of Vernon.
Officials are reluctant to hold the referendum in December or January due to challenges with voter turnout around the holidays, so if a November date is not feasible, it will likely be delayed until the spring.
“It’s challenging, time is getting very tight,” Sewell says. “We might have a few more days to make it work (for November). That’s why we’re scrambling right now to provide those assurances.”
This is the second time the province has rejected the referendum proposal, and Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund says every delay is costing taxpayers.
“It doesn’t make sense to me because we did what the ministry told us,” Mund says of the second proposal. “I just hope it’s not going back to square one, because we did what they asked for down to a T.”
The longer the wait, Mund says, the higher the cost to taxpayers. The city is already pouring money into Civic Arena to keep it running until a replacement sheet is built, he says, adding the cost of building a new rink will only go up over time.
“Every time we push something back the costs go up, so it becomes instead of being a $13.2-million project, it could become a $14-million project because as we all know, costs rise,” Mund says.
The mayor attributes some of the delay to staffing changes within the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
“We were dealing with Coralee Oakes, and now with Minister Peter Fassbender — the staff have all changed over. None of the same players are there anymore,” Mund says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015