Courtenay reconsiders support of referendum to approve turf expense referendum

Courtenay council withdrew its support for a November referendum on the artificial turf field project Monday, the day before the regional district was to vote on the issue.

Mayor Greg Phelps brought the issue back to council Monday for reconsideration.

"We've been through most of this, but I just want to make sure we're still on board if that's what council wishes," he said. "I want to make sure we don't get into this and have a surprise at any time in the future."

Two weeks ago, council voted to support amending the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) bylaw to increase the maximum requisition from $0.04 to $0.08 per thousand for the Comox Valley Sports Track and Fields Service and support borrowing about $3,315,000 for the full artificial turf fields project being brought forward by the Comox Valley United Soccer Club (CVUSC), subject to obtaining elector assent of the entire service area as one voting unit via a referendum.

This motion was defeated Monday when Couns. Jon Ambler, Larry Jangula and Manno Theos voted against it.

Phelps explained that if council defeated its original resolution, Courtenay's CVRD representatives would say Courtenay is not onside and would ask that its concerns be addressed before moving forward, and they could encourage a referendum at another time.

When council supported moving ahead with the referendum on Aug. 2, Courtenay's director of financial services recommended against supporting the bylaw to increase the maximum requisition and suggested council continue to endorse a resolution made in October that generally supports the capital cost for the construction of one artificial turf field with lights, subject to the funding being provided by other sources.

Since that time, council has received a memorandum from city administrator Sandy Gray, who noted that the original project supported in October envisioned the CVUSC raising all of the $1.2 to $1.5 million estimated construction cost, and there was no request for local government tax dollars for this one-field concept.

Gray also pointed out that council normally engages in months of discussions before making major financial decisions, but there was no discussion with council before the request came to support a major enhancement of the artificial turf field project and to increase the annual maximum requisition.

"I have a number of concerns about the potential impact this decision may have for the city and on our ability to fund other major municipal initiatives in future years," he wrote.

Gray noted that the new proposal anticipates the CVUSC raising $800,000, with the remaining balance being funded through local taxpayer dollars, and he wondered who would pick up the shortfall if the club couldn't raise the full $800,000.

Gray also pointed out that taxpayer dollars are increasing from $0 in the original proposal to about $3.2 million under the new plan, while Courtenay's share would increase from $0 to an annual estimated cost of $236,369.

Ambler said his heart was behind the project, but he had enough concerns for his head to overtake his heart.

"When this started, it started as a grassroots project ... now it's gone to a $3-million decision, and typically when this council makes a $3-million decision, that goes into our strategic planning and we take a longer time and we debate at length," he said. "The risk part is growing to the extent that at this point, it is overwhelming my heart part."

Coun. Doug Hillian advocated for going along with the other municipal governments in the Valley and reinforcing council's original decision, and he was the only one to vote in favour of council's original motion.

The CVRD was to discuss the referendum for borrowing for the artificial turf fields Tuesday during its committee of the whole meeting

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