CVRD board members discuss use of alternative approval process for civic centre

CVRD board members discuss use of alternative approval process for civic centre

While many CVRD board members admit it is a “slippery way to operate,” some maintain that the alternative approval process (AAP) was the right method to approve borrowing money for the proposed Comox Valley Civic Centre.

On Aug. 21, the CVRD announced it will move ahead with the $11.7-million civic centre after using the AAP to receive support to borrow money for the project. The CVRD first approved the use of the AAP for the civic centre this spring.

The Comox Valley Civic Centre is a proposed development that will be located on Harmston Avenue in downtown Courtenay. It will replace the CVRD’s leased offices on Comox Road, which the RD is currently paying $330,000 per year to rent.

The CVRD aims to make the building tax-neutral.

At the CVRD board meeting on Aug. 29, directors discussed backlash they’ve received from constituents for using the AAP. While members at the meeting were not unanimous in their approval of using the method, a few maintained that it was the right process to move forward with the civic centre.

“I’m not a fan of the AAP. People feel it’s a slippery way for us to operate,” said Area B director Rodney Nichol. “But in this situation, I agree it was the way to go.”

Under the AAP, if more than 10 per cent of electors — or 5,055 people — had submitted elector response forms before Aug. 18, the bylaw to borrow $8.2 million for the project would have gone to a referendum.

In the end, only 828 residents submitted the forms.

“In these particular cases, when you have nearly 1,000 people in the community go through the effort of signing an [elector response form], it tells me there is a concern,” said Courtenay director Manno Theos. “I think moving forward, we have to really continue to work on the messaging. In a case like this, it does make me concerned that a lot of voices wouldn’t be heard.”

The CVRD’s reasons for replacing its current offices is that the space is insufficient, the lease is expensive and the area on which the building lies is prone to flooding.

The CVRD plans to finance the civic centre with $8.2 million in long-term borrowing, as well as $2 million from its reserve funds and $1.5 million in grant funding.

“It makes sense to anyone who’s saved up enough for a down payment on their first mortgage that it’s far better to be putting money towards an asset than to be blowing it out the window,” said Area C director Edwin Grieve.

Comox director Ken Grant also argued that the AAP was the right process for approving the civic centre.

“I agree it looks slippery,” said Grant. “But it’s certainly a better way when you have something like this than spending $40–50,000 on a referendum. It makes sense to do this if we can keep it neutral in the revenue department, which I believe we can probably do.

“I have a lot of friends who tend to understand the way financing works and they were all up in arms about this until [they found out] we’re spending $330,000 a year on lease and we’re going to build a building that’s going to be neutral,” he continued.

One director who opposed the use of the AAP was Courtenay director and mayor Larry Jangula.

“A lot of people in the community are quite upset about the AAP and feel they would much rather have had a referendum,” said Jangula. “It is not the best way in the world to do things. A lot of people still don’t understand the concepts, the financial part of it.

“I just don’t feel it’s the best way to do business.”