Municipal managers in West Kelowna have revived the idea of building a city hall three years after voters rejected the proposal.
A new $18 million city hall could be built without raising taxes, municipal officials say, and they’ve devised a financing strategy which would not allow for another referendum.
The funding scheme, which could be approved as early as Tuesday by city councillors, uses $7 million from reserves and calls for the borrowing of up to $11 million.
“The City of West Kelowna has the ability to build its first City Hall without increasing taxes,” reads part of a report to council from chief administrative officer Paul Gipps.
A purpose-built city hall is “long overdue” Gipps says, and the way staff propose to fund the undertaking “does not require a vote”.
In March 2016, 3,871 West Kelowna residents signed a petition against the municipality’s plan to build a new city hall. That number of signatories, unprecedented for a West Kelowna civic petition, forced the municipality to hold a referendum on the city hall plan.
On Sept. 17, 2016, 4,212 people voted against the city hall plan, while 4,185 voted for it.
Ian Graham, who led community opposition to the 2016 city hall plan, said Sunday he was dismayed but not surprised the City of West Kelowna has revived the idea of a purpose-built municipal building.
“I’m not surprised at anything this city does,” Graham said. “Just a few years ago, voters said quite clearly they didn’t want the city spending money on a city hall when there are so many other priorities, like clean water and good roads.
“But here’s the city now, coming back with another city hall plan, and a sneaky one that shuts out voters completely,” Graham said. “Of course I believe any city hall plan, especially one costing almost $20 million, should be put to voters, but that’s clearly not what the people in charge of the city believe.”
In his report to council, Gipps writes that the 2016 referendum on the city hall proposal failed by “only 27 votes” and he says it “divided the community with vote ‘yes’ and ‘no’ groups expressing their view”.
Since it was incorporated in 2007, West Kelowna’s administrative offices have operated out of a variety of facilities.
“We continue to run into space challenges throughout our operations and will need to expand again within the next year,” says Gipps, who was hired West Kelowna city councillors in 2019 after they did not renew the contract of former city manager Jim Zaffino.
The city has been putting $700,000 annually into a fund designed to help pay for a new city hall. That fund now has a balance of $7 million.
Gipps’ plan is to use that money and also borrow up to $11 million from a provincial finance authority to start construction of a city hall in 2022. The loan would be repaid using the $700,000 now allocated annually into the reserve fund.
Such a funding scheme, Gipps says, could be approved by council as early as Tuesday’s meeting and proceed without taxpayer approval through either a petition or referendum.