City of Powell River councillors have received a series of recommendations from the fire hall/emergency services facility select advisory committee for a new fire hall.
At the January 20 city council meeting, councillors were presented the recommendations, which included: the need for a new emergency services facility; the location to be at the city public works yard; that council create a referendum question to be included at the October 15, 2022 municipal election; that council issue a request for proposals for a project manager for the purpose of coordinating a design-build fire hall/emergency services facility up to $7.5 million with the project to begin construction within the next two years; that council continue to investigate all funding opportunities, including reserve funds and grants.
Councillor George Doubt said he had questions about receiving the report from the committee. He said he appreciated the work the committee had done and that he had attended most of the public engagement sessions and listened to what the public had to say. He said there were a few things that council had to carefully discuss.
“For me, it’s around council issuing a request for proposals for a project manager and the design-build concept, and the dollar value of $7.5 million,” said Doubt. “All of those need to be carefully considered before we agree to them. I have experiences with some major construction projects and there is a big difference between creating your own design for a bid and asking individuals to design and build something for you for a particular price.
“I just want to know we’re going to have an opportunity to debate that and probably an opportunity to debate what the appropriate question would be for a referendum. My question is: is this a final decision to go ahead on these things or is it an interim step that would involve more debate by council?”
Mayor Dave Formosa said his concern is if the city is to issue a request for proposals for a project manager and proposals for designs, and the fire hall doesn’t pass the referendum; what does the city do about that?
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said Doubt and Formosa had rightly pointed out that the next step would be consideration of a referendum question. He said a report from staff would be required to point out steps and timelines in order to meet requirements for a referendum question to be approved by the inspector of municipalities. He said for the October 15 municipal election, the question would have to be sorted out by June.
“You would need a report back speaking to the referendum question, and what the question would be, plus the process required to get it before the inspector of municipalities,” said Brewer.
Formosa asked about the issue of hiring somebody prior to the question.
“How do you justify that?” asked Formosa.
Brewer said his understanding is that the referendum question will be required first. He said staff required direction from council to bring back a report on the process of getting a referendum question and getting it approved.
Mayor questions recommendation
Formosa said it begs the question whether council should be changing the recommendation. He asked if the recommendation gives staff what it wants without binding council.
Brewer said the initiative before council is accepting the committee’s recommendation.
“You’re accepting the committee’s recommendation,” said Brewer. “That’s all you’re doing with the motion.”
Councillor Cindy Elliott said she is happy to accept recommendations from the committee, although she wasn’t in favour of all the recommendations. She said she is uncomfortable looking at a referendum question when she believes it will be used as an avenue to say no.
“I don’t think the community is ready to have a referendum on this issue right now,” said Elliott. “My preference would be to not have a referendum right away. COVID-19 happened, we are struggling financially, and we haven’t finished some of the projects that are underway.
“The timing is a little bit off. I don’t want staff to put huge efforts into that question until we decide whether we want to do a referendum or not. That’s a decision of council and we need to do that first.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said as long as the recommendation is accepting the endorsement of the committee, then she is good with that.
Formosa said council is just voting on the recommendation and accepting it.
Councillor Jim Palm said he understands from the conversation that the committee’s recommendation is a non-binding resolution. He said he attended all of the meetings of the committee and wanted to thank the committee for its fine work. He said he sensed there was concern around cost, the request for proposals and the two-year timeline.
Doubt said his comments come from a position of respect for the committee but he believes council needs to have more debate. He said any referendum question would have to have a value of the new fire hall, and council will then have to address whether it wants a design-build contract or a design-bid contract.
“What I’d like to see is us accept this recommendation from the committee and have staff come back in an orderly way so we can debate all of these questions and see if council at this time wants to have a referendum,” said Doubt. “It would mean, at a minimum, we’d have to go out and find $7.5 million and repay that somehow.”
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said these are the conclusions the committee came to and the committee is just passing on to council what they have agreed to and what they think is the best route.
“Council is free to do with them as they wish,” said Hathaway.
Council voted to accept the committee’s recommendations. Council did not give direction to staff for a report on a potential referendum, as outlined by Brewer.