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Summerland council balking at price tag on new aquatic centre after months of public consultation

Cold feet over pricey pool

As the prospect of a referendum on a pricey new proposed pool facility looms, some on Summerland council are balking at asking the taxpayers for $30 million or more for the new project.

Staff at the District and an outside consultation firm have been engaging with the public for months through surveys and meetings on plans for an upgraded aquatic centre, probing options that encompass a price range of $30 million for a basic replacement to $60 million including amenities like a childcare centre, primary care centre, gymnasium and tennis court.

Council heard the results of that lengthy study Monday afternoon, with the recommendation that council move forward with a feasibility study before a referendum on the basic $30 million building and perhaps consider the other proposals as future projects, but even that number caused a few on council to balk.

"One thing we can't get away from is the cost and what our taxpayers are prepared to bear," Coun. Doug Holmes.

"What order do you put things? Do you say, 'Okay here's the project we'd like and this is what it's going to cost and whether it's a ridiculous amount or not w'e'll go to the public with it,' or do we say 'This is what we think our community can financially support, and this is what we can get for that money?' It's two different ways of looking at it."

"We're looking, even at the core building, at $30 million," said Coun. Doug Patton, suggesting revisiting the concept of renovation over replacement.

"For $15 million, we can upgrade our existing centre, be more energy efficient with higher energy efficient pool equipment and in the long term save some money for our municipality and still utilize the existing structures that we have."

Coun. Erin Trainer spoke to the virtue of spending now and saving later.

"$15 million is a lot to spend on upgrading a facility that's already 50 years old, and I question whether it would stand up another 30 years. Whereas spending $30 million on a new facility is also expensive, but that's spread out over a long time and I believe this will last us longer, and serve our community down the road for future generations."

Director of finance Dave Svetlichny explained some of the next steps, should council choose to ask the public through a referendum for permission to borrow for the project.

"If the referendum were to come back and the residents said no, they don't wish to borrow $30 million, then the District would have to do one of two things: Find $30 million of non-borrowed money to go ahead, or go back to the public with a revised question with a different price tag," he said.

After a lengthy discussion, council voted to return to the matter at another future meeting with another staff report, hopefully as soon as the first meeting in February.

"I'm not sure that we have all of the information that we might have if staff came back to us with another report and a larger discussion," Mayor Toni Boot said.



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