When voters enter the polling booth to vote on enhancements to Castlegar’s recreation complex on June 23, they’ll be asked to simply answer “yes” or “no”.
But the question itself is not so simple.
Over 100 words in length, the Castlegar and District Enhancement Project Referendum question is one even Recreation Manager Jim Crockett doesn’t like.
“It is a challenging thing,” he told Castlegar News. “It’s confusing, and we’re trying our hardest to not confuse people. But it is a complicated situation.”
Broken down into its parts, the referendum asks two things: to create a new amalgamated recreation service overseeing operation of the entire complex, and to allow that new service to borrow for improvements.
The set up
That’s what the first paragraph sets up: asking voters to accept two bylaws:
“Are you in favour of the Regional District of Central Kootenay adopting Bylaw No. 2597 and Bylaw No. 2598 to provide for the following”, the introduction reads.
The details of Bylaws No. 2597 and 2598 are then explained in the following paragraphs.
RDCK’s voting officer for the referendum, Randy Matheson, said it had to be done that way.
“There are two bylaws, with one purpose,” he says. “It’s pretty standard, in how we want to amalgamate two separate services, and how we have to include how much we are borrowing.
“It’s not one or the other — it’s all in one parcel.”
The administrative bylaw
The second paragraph describes Bylaw #2597, the issue of amalgamating two separate services.“the establishment of the ‘Castlegar and District Regional Facilities, Recreation, Parks and Leisure Service’ with the annual requisition for the service, including the repayment of borrowing, not to exceed the greater of $4,346,103 or $2.04/$1,000 of net taxable value of land and improvements within the service area;”
There’s a lot in this paragraph. We’ll break it down into two parts.
1. “The establishment of the ‘Castlegar and District Regional Facilities, Recreation, Parks and Leisure Service’”
A strange situation exists right now in the RDCK, as a result of local politics about 30 years ago: some RDCK taxpayers pay for the operation of the whole recreation complex, while others only pay for the arena, and not the aquatic centre.
“There’s an imaginary line that cuts the complex in half,” says Crockett. “Right now we have Service 222 — the arena side, and Service 227 — the aquatic side. This [bylaw] brings it all together into one new service.”
He says if they didn’t create one new, amalgamated Service, it could create a complicated situation necessitating two different referendums, and the prospect of one area rejecting the idea, and another adopting it.
“Then you would have had a whole other mix of weirdness happening,” he says.
The second part of the paragraph allows the new amalgamated Service to have the ability to spend money:“with the annual requisition for the service, including the repayment of borrowing, not to exceed the greater of $4,346,103 or $2.04/$1,000 of net taxable value of land and improvements within the service area;
This part of the sentence sets the cap that the new Service can charge everyone in the City of Castlegar, and Areas I and J.
“It doesn’t mean we will actually tax at that rate,” says Crockett. “If the assessment rate grows, for instance, it reduces the rate.”
Crockett points out that number — the $2.04 per 1,000 of property value — is called the Maximum Actual Taxation. It’s a number the provincial government uses to oversee municipal operations. That number combines all municipal taxes — business tax, industrial tax, residential etc into a single number.
The actual tax rate a homeowner pays is quite a bit lower.
So why not just say what the impact will be for homeowners? Crockett says it’s how the province wants it set out.
“The reason you have to talk about the ‘Maximum Actual Tax rate’ is because the ministry sees that rate,” he says. “Bylaws are speaking to the ministry. It’s a piece of legal jargon the ministry needs to know — what the flat rate is over all classifications.”
The actual residential tax rate is expected to be around $1.392 per 1,000 if the full $22 million is borrowed for the facility. And it can’t go higher than $1.519 per $1,000.
So in the one sentence, the referendum sets up the new service, and arranges that everyone in the affected areas will pay the same amount.
Between the second and third paragraphs, there’s an “AND”, in capital letters, making the two parts of the question into one.
”It’s all or nothing,” says Crockett. “You could have one side pass and one side fail,” he says. “You can’t do that. The ministry wouldn’t allow it.”
The borrowing bylaw
The third paragraph describes Bylaw #2598, asking voters for explicit approval for borrowing.“the borrowing of up to $22,000,000 dollars, for a term not to exceed 25 years, for capital purposes associated with the construction, renovation and expansion of the community and recreational facilities?”
If the Recreation Service had been set up years ago as one unit, without different sections, the referendum question facing voters now might have been just this question. But because of the past history of the complex, the RDCK was left trying to both clean up an administrative problem, and ask for the money at the same time.
“We can’t do one without the other,” says Crockett.
While neither Crockett nor Matheson likes the question, they both say it’s the best under the circumstances.
“It’s one of those ones where you have to make it so people can understand it, but we have to go with what is mandated under local government rules,” says Matheson. “We did the best we can to make it easy for people to read, and know what they are voting on.”
400 years ago, Shakespeare asked one of the most profound questions of all, using six words: “To be, or not to be?”
Would that getting approval for an enhanced recreation complex could be worded as simply.