Council wants culture centre referendum

Library/gallery gets extra grant scrutiny for passing $10-million threshold.

Smithers council chose to go with a referendum in its bid to borrow $1 million towards a new $15.9-million library/art gallery culture centre building at Veterans’ Peace Park.

The group around the table is also agreed to apply for $12.872 million from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, a joint provincial-federal grant program that is giving up to 90 per cent of project costs for towns between 5,000 and 25,000. Towns under 5,000 can get 100 per cent.

An anonymous donor has also already ponied up $1 million for the culture centre, with another $1 million to be fundraised.

The grant application will get extra scrutiny from the higher levels of government because it is over their $10-million threshold.

“Projects with total estimated eligible expenditures of $10 million or more will be subject to climate lens assessments (including a greenhouse gas emissions assessment that includes a cost-per-tonne calculation and a climate change resilience assessment) to be completed to British Columbia and Canada’s satisfaction prior to Canada’s approval of a project for funding. A climate change resilience assessment must be completed for all projects that seek funding under the Adaptation, Resilience and Disaster Mitigation Outcome.

“Approved projects will be subject to reporting requirements as the projects progress. Applicants are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the requirements described in this guide.

“The Program targets projects that can be completed in the five to six years following approval,” reads the program guide from the Province.

Town staff made it clear that they did not believe there were options of phasing or cutting aspects that would get the project below $10 million.

The entire province only has up to $95 million to split among grant recipients during this intake. Smithers may have a better chance than some communities because of the relatively short window for applying after the Sept. 12 announcement: applications are due Jan. 23 and require quite a bit of work to show funding and building plans.

CAO Anne Yanciw answered council’s query on the estimated cost difference between a referendum or alternative approval process (AAP), saying the AAP would be about $9,000 versus $18,000 for the referendum. The AAP has people opposed to the borrowing come into town hall to vote against it, with a 10 per cent threshold to stop the borrowing. A referendum is sent out to all taxpayers and requires a 50 per cent yes vote.

Mayor Taylor Bachrach and some councillors said a referendum is the best way to gain momentum for the project, helping with fundraising and bringing closure to any debate on whether it should go forward.

The cost of the loan would require a 1.14 per cent tax increase, meaning $15 for the average $277,000-assessed home. A staff report said some of this can be offset by a Highway 16 $1.5-million improvement loan debt being retired between 2022-2024 (depending on interest rates).

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