Residents discussed the complex expansion at a series of open houses over several years. (Betsy Kline/Castlegar News)

Residents discussed the complex expansion at a series of open houses over several years. (Betsy Kline/Castlegar News)

Castlegar Mayor, area residents react to referendum defeat

Chernoff says proponents did “all they could” to push for project’s approval

Castlegar’s mayor says he’s disappointed by the results of Saturday’s referendum on the future of the recreation complex.

But Lawrence Chernoff says the electorate has made its decision.

“It’s a lot of hard work and money spent, and the end result is very disappointing.” says Chernoff. “We did the total transparency and information, and everyone had a great opportunity to discuss this and now here we are today.”

On Saturday voters in the three voting areas- the City of Castlegar, and Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas I and J voted 51.9 per cent in favour of a proposal to spend $32 million on expanding the city’s recreation complex.

However, the referendum rules said each separate area had to endorse the plan individually. In Area I, which includes communities like Glade, Thrums and Shoreacres, the proposal was soundly defeated, with more than 70 per cent voting against the proposal.

That means the overall referendum was lost.

Vote breakdown

Castlegar: Yes — 1367 (57%), No — 1032 (43%)

Area J: Yes — 492 (57%), No — 377 (43%)

Area I: Yes — 200 (29%), No — 498 (71%)

There are 1,800 voters in Area I, out of 9,900 total electors.

In all, 39.5 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

LINK: Area I rejects recreation complex expansion proposal: referendum defeated

Online debate continues

Online reaction was steady to the news of the referendum’s defeat.

“So one area dictates for all?!,” asked Sherry Soobotin on the Castlegar News Facebook page. “I agree with those who say follow Trail’s lead. Area I residents can pay more than city and area J residents.”

“Total BS,” added Leah Hyde.” …that a small number of voters can squash what the majority want!!”

But others defended the decision to turn down the $22 million in borrowing the expanded complex would have required.

“Thank you, RDCK and especially Director Andy Davidoff, for preserving our right to self-determination,” said Linda Evans. “What Area I has shown you tonight is the geographic line where the services provided are no longer worth the tax burden.”

“Fair is fair bring it up to the right people and change the voting system,” said Tyler Hadikin. “I don’t agree with it either but I respect other people’s vote and opinions as much as any other person’s.”

Next steps not certain

The RDCK had asked voters to pass two bylaws. One would create a new recreation service, combining two existing ones; the second bylaw allowed that service to borrow the $22 million to expand Castlegar’s recreation complex. Plans included a second sheet of ice, elevated walking track, a new “social hub”, pool, gym and other improvements.

Proponents said the expanded complex would be a facility that would provide new recreation opportunities as a hub of the community, and help attract growth to the area. But opponents chafed at the estimated cost — about $150 in extra taxes a year on a property assessed at $300,000. The rate would have been even higher in part of Area I that currently doesn’t pay taxes on the aquatic centre portion of the complex.

It’s not certain what will happen next, says Chernoff.

Yesterday’s referendum came about eight years after a similar proposal was turned down, and officials had spent the intervening time consulting and engaging the public to try to determine what kind of proposal could pass. The proposal voted on was found to have about 62 per cent approval from respondents in a survey last winter.

“There’s nothing more that we could have done,” says Chernoff. “I honestly don’t know the answer. You try to give people the information and they can make the decision. “In Area I was it about the money, because you’re paying for the aquatic centre you didn’t pay for before?

“It’s really hard to say.”

Chernoff says the decision is going to affect the way Castlegar grows in the future.

“A recreation facility is part of growth, economic development, health, it does affect it no doubt about it,” the mayor said. “But we need to move on to the future and what we can do next to help Castlegar grow.”

Chernoff says the recreation commission will look over its options at the next meeting, in about two weeks.

Debate continues

But though the referendum is over, the debate is far from done.

“Many of the Area I residents live on land that was inherited. This land was settled long before the existing Rec. Centre was built,” said Marilyn Popoff on Facebook. “Shoreacres residents take care of the beach already, they have the Slocan to tube down – why should they be forced to pay extra so that a few rich kids can play hockey?”

“Castlegar would pay more because there are more taxpayers,” said Sherry Watson. “Even if you don’t use the complex the benefits for the whole community have been explained. I am sorry we do not share the same vision for our beautiful area.”

“Disappointing. Let’s all just stagnate with the status quo,” Clay Stooshnoff said in the Facebook discussion. “Growth leads to growth and this area needs some.”

But No voters were just as adamant.

“I say let the FEW who use the pool pay for it! Thank goodness it was rejected!,” said Leo Davidson. “Lots of us can’t afford to go to the pool now, why should we pay for a new one we can’t afford?”

 

Referendum officials say turnout for the vote was about 39.5 per cent.

Referendum officials say turnout for the vote was about 39.5 per cent.