Ref­er­en­dum could help se­cure funds to re­place Crys­tal Pool, min­is­ter says

Vic­to­ria wants fi­nan­cial help for $69.4-mil­lion project

Times Colonist - - The Capital / Island - BILL CLEVERLEY bclev­er­ley@times­

Hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on the Crys­tal Pool re­place­ment project could help the City of Vic­to­ria se­cure se­nior gov­ern­ment fund­ing, ac­cord­ing to pro­vin­cial Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Selina Robin­son.

Vic­to­ria hopes to re­ceive enough se­nior gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the project through the fed­eral/pro­vin­cial In­vest­ing In Canada Plan to avoid the need to go to a bor­row­ing ref­er­en­dum on the $69.4-mil­lion project.

But in a let­ter to Mayor Lisa Helps, Robin­son ref­er­ences the city’s de­ci­sion not to go to a vote.

“While the city has the author­ity to make such a de­ci­sion, large-scale projects that demon­strate both pub­lic and fi­nan­cial sup­port through a ref­er­en­dum (or some sort of pub­lic ap­proval process) are iden­ti­fied as lower risk un­der the pro­gram as­sess­ment,” Robin­son writes.

Helps said the city has been clear “that if we need to hold a ref­er­en­dum to fund the project, we ab­so­lutely will. That’s been the plan from the very be­gin­ning.

“At the same time,” she said, “I think it’s in the pub­lic in­ter­est and the fis­cal in­ter­est of ev­ery­body that if we do go out to ref­er­en­dum, we go out with a very clear amount — not say­ing ‘to au­tho­rize the city to bor­row up to $40 mil­lion or $50 mil­lion or $27 mil­lion.’ ”

The city has $10 mil­lion in re­serves earmarked for the project and has al­ready re­ceived con­fir­ma­tion of $6 mil­lion in gas-tax fund­ing, which is se­cure un­til March 31, 2019. If fund­ing for the project is not con­firmed at that date, the city would have to seek an ex­ten­sion.

The hope is that the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will each agree to fund 40 per cent of the costs, with the city pick­ing up 20 per cent, Helps said.

But if the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, for ex­am­ple, cov­ers a smaller por­tion of the project, the city “could close the gap by bor­row­ing from our­selves,” Helps said.

“We don’t want to ex­cite our res­i­dents by hav­ing an un­nec­es­sary ref­er­en­dum, but if we need a ref­er­en­dum to get the project fully funded, we ab­so­lutely will.”

Mean­while, Helps re­buffed a sug­ges­tion that cor­re­spon­dence from se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in­di­cates the city is skat­ing on thin ice when it comes to fund­ing for the project.

In a let­ter in­cluded in this week’s coun­cil agenda pack­age, fed­eral In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi notes that pro­posed projects must first be pri­or­i­tized by the prov­ince be­fore be­ing sub­mit­ted to In­fra­struc­ture Canada for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Robin­son says in her let­ter that pro­vin­cial project ap­provals un­der ICIP are not ex­pected to be fi­nal­ized this fis­cal year.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate that time is of the essence for this project as the city would like to com­mence con­struc­tion in 2018; how­ever, I must also em­pha­size that projects that award ten­der prior to fund­ing ap­proval are in­el­i­gi­ble for pro­gram fund­ing,” Robin­son writes. “It does push us to next year,” Helps said. “But I guess that’s just the re­al­ity of the way that pro­vin­cial and fed­eral dol­lars flow. We have had strong in­di­ca­tions from the prov­ince that no one wants to see us lose that $6 mil­lion.”

Helps said all pub­lic en­gage­ment the city has done to date shows the pub­lic’s re­sponse to re­plac­ing the Crys­tal Pool is “over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive.”

“The pub­lic sup­port is kind of un­like any­thing we’ve seen for projects in the past. I think there’s over­whelm­ing sup­port,” she said.

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