This weekend’s borrowing referendum in Vernon, B.C. answered one question: Vernon voters are willing to foot the bill for a major new recreation project dubbed the “Active Living Centre.”
The majority of voters cast their ballots in favour of borrowing up to $121 million for the project.
But the “yes” vote also raises new political questions that could pit Vernon against its neighbours.
Chief among them: will neighbouring jurisdictions help pay for the project?
On Tuesday, Coldstream’s new mayor-elect indicated her jurisdiction may now be ready to talk about helping to pay for the maintenance and operation of the new facility.
“I certainly want to open the door to sitting down and looking at an agreement similar to what we have now in which Coldstream and the electoral areas contribute to operations and maintenance,” said Coldstream mayor-elect Ruth Hoyte.
“I am happy that the referendum did pass because there was no question that this area needs a new aquatic facility”
Who pays for the Active Living Centre has been a contentious question as the large-scale recreation centre is expected to be used by people region-wide, but, as it stands now, only Vernon will be footing the bill to build and operate it.
That’s because earlier this year Coldstream and two electoral areas neighbouring Vernon said they wouldn’t participate.
However, now Coldstream’s new mayor is willing to talk about financially contributing at least to operations and maintenance. That would likely mean local governments renegotiating their existing agreement that sees outlying areas pay Vernon for offering recreation services.
“We contribute to the operations and maintenance now to the current facilities and that is the expectation I have with Coldstream now going forward,” said Hoyte.
“As far as the capital costs I don’t believe that Coldstream will be participating in that simply because we have no ownership or any aspect of management.”
Electoral Area B director Bob Fleming also told Global News he expects to be discussing a new recreation funding agreement with Vernon as the Active Living Centre project takes shape.
Fleming says his area, Coldstream and Electoral Area C currently pay Vernon around $1.2-million annually to support recreation services, and “the recreation agreement…allows for renegotiation of the funding supplied if the scope of the service increases (or decreases).”
In the lead-up to the referendum, Vernon told voters, if the Active Living Centre is built, City of Vernon taxpayers would pay lower user fees.
It remains to be seen if the local governments will be able to reach a deal that will eliminate the proposal for a two-tiered fee structure.
The City of Vernon did not make anyone available for an interview on Tuesday as it says it will be up to the incoming council to make a decision on the next steps.
Meanwhile, there is also the question of what happens to the aging existing pool which Vernon’s neighbours do participate in funding.
During the referendum, the city said a feasibility study recommended the current pool be decommissioned if a new rec centre is built, but that it would consult with other local governments.
“I personally would like to see the facility remain as a second location for a pool but that is just my personal opinion. Vernon is the owner and manager of that facility and they will be making the decision,” said Hoyte.
The Active Living Centre project is not expected to be completed until the fall of 2026.