North Cowichan has decided not to hold a referendum to seek permission from eligible voters to borrow the money to construct the long-anticipated new RCMP building.
Instead, the municipality decided in a council meeting on July 17 to use the alternative approval process to determine if the electorate wants to borrow to build the approximately $40 million facility that is being proposed.
An AAP requires that 10 per cent or more of the eligible voters in a municipality must sign and submit response forms in opposition to the project to stop the borrowing process from proceeding.
If 10 per cent of voters in North Cowichan sign forms in opposition to the project, the municipality would then have to choose to either hold a referendum within 80 days, or council may put the project on hold and consider alternatives.
One of the major factors in council’s decision to hold an AAP instead of a referendum is the costs; a referendum would cost taxpayers approximately $60,000, while an AAP would cost just about $2,000.
A staff report prepared for the meeting said many key decisions have already been made on the new RCMP detachment project, and the key remaining decision is which approval process council wants to proceed with in order to seek the approval of the electorate.
“Residents will have a direct say in this through a referendum or AAP, and information should be distributed to residents in advance of electoral assent,” the report stated.
Mayor Al Siebring said he was “absolutely opposed” to AAPs when he was first elected to council in 2008.
He said he saw AAPs as similar to the negative option billing that was being done by some cable companies at the time in which people paid for channels unless they told the cable companies they didn’t want them.
But Siebring said he has had to reconsider his opposition after 11 years on council.
“In that time, I’ve seen some AAPs that have been successful, like the forestry referendum in the Cowichan Valley Regional District and (North Cowichan’s) diking program after the flooding in 2009,” he said.
“Fewer than 100 people were opposed to the dikes because it was clear that they were needed, just as this new RCMP building is. I expect we won’t see a lot of opposition to the new RCMP building. As well, holding a referendum would be a pretty big chunk of change compared to an AAP.”
It’s expected that once preliminary design and estimated construction costs are confirmed, North Cowichan’s AAP process to borrow the money to construct the building will begin sometime in the fall.
The staff report stated that if voters don’t give assent to borrow the money for the project, the RCMP could then potentially construct the building and charge the cost back to North Cowichan.
“This would be at a higher cost to the taxpayer than if North Cowichan were to borrow the funds and build the building,” the report stated.
“Another option would for the municipality to conduct another referendum based on a smaller non-hub detachment which would also likely be at a higher cost to taxpayers.”
North Cowichan had agreed in principle in March to proceed with plans for the new building on its five-acre property bordering Ford Road and Drinkwater Road.
While the municipality will be responsible for borrowing the money, if the project proceeds as planned, the RCMP and the province have agreed to pick up 60 per cent of the tab for the building, with North Cowichan responsible for the rest.
The facility will be a hub detachment that will bring together the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment, Forensic Identification Services, South Island Traffic Services, First Nations Policing and some services of the Shawnigan Lake RCMP detachment under one roof.
The project is still subject to federal approval and the signing of a new occupancy agreement with the municipality.
The existing North Cowichan/Duncan detachment on Canada Avenue is well past the end of its life.
The building has had ongoing issues with rodents, leaking, flooding, and lack of adequate space.
As well as being in deteriorating condition, the current detachment building is unable to hold the number of officers, prisoners and support staff to meet the needs of a growing community.