Residents were asked to keep the issue of how best to pay for Sechelt's new wastewater treatment plant separate from whether they agreed with the project during a referendum information session on Feb. 11.
"You will get a chance in November to cast your vote on whether you agree with the decision that was made on the wastewater treatment plant," Sechelt's chief of innovation and growth Ron Buchhorn said, referring to the upcoming election in November.
"This is about the funding of a plant that is almost 40 per cent built and we should be doing the best we can for the District of Sechelt from a financial perspective."
About 20 people came to the information meeting Tuesday night at the Seaside Centre to hear about the new funding option proposed for Sechelt's $25 million wastewater treatment plant.
Originally, the District of Sechelt planned to pull over $9 million from its sewer reserves, sewer treatment development cost charges and unrestricted surpluses and borrow $2.5 million to pay for the plant. That money, in addition to other grants and an investment from the Sechelt Indian Band, would have funded the $25 million project.
However, the District has now been approved for a $7.4 million loan through the Green Municipal Fund (GMF) to be paid back over 10 years, which comes with a $1 million non-repayable grant.
If Sechelt accepts the larger loan, it will be able to save about $5.9 million of its reserves and surpluses and the $1 million grant could be used to cover the interest on the GMF loan.
Because the loan would take more than five years to repay, Sechelt must go to the taxpayers for permission by way of referendum. Tuesday night's meeting was meant to clear up any confusion for voters.
After a brief overview of the two options by chief financial officer Victor Mema, attendees divided into small groups for roundtable discussions, each facilitated by one District of Sechelt staff person and one financial expert.
Questions were asked about why everyone had to vote instead of just those connected to the sewer, if a guarantee could be given that council wouldn't spend the saved reserve funds and if the loan is locked in at a 2.25 per cent interest rate.
Attendees were told that yes, the interest rate will be fixed, but the exact rate won't be known until the papers are drawn up.
"It appears that the rate of the loan is tied to the bond rate so they don't see a lot of change in that between now and when the loan would actually occur," one man reported from his group.
Buchhorn assured that the unrestricted surplus couldn't be spent this year without a "bylaw to essentially change the budget."
"So really what you're talking about is what the next council in November would do in the 2015 budget because this year is locked down," Buchhorn said. "The other thing is the sewer reserves and the cost charges; those must be spent for the purposes that they were collected."
Attendees were told all of the electorate must vote because the entire District must guarantee the loan, despite that fact only those connected to the sewer would pay for it through their existing sewer user fees.
Mema said fees and taxes would not go up in Sechelt to pay back the loan and noted a contingency of $500,000 is in the treatment plant's construction budget to take care of any unexpected overages.
Most seemed in favour of going with the GMF loan after their questions were answered.
"In short, really, the option that we have now is viable. The option that we are proposing now is better," Mema said.
A similar presentation and question and answer period for the Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce was held last Thursday, Feb. 6, where most were in favour of going with the GMF loan.
Regardless of their personal feelings, however, Chamber president Christine Stefanik encouraged everyone to get out and vote.
"The chamber will be very active and engaged in this process," Stefanik said. "Regardless of how you vote and how predetermined you think the results may be, please get out and vote and get out and tell your neighbours, tell your friends. This is important because this has long-lasting consequences."
Sechelt voters will have their say on Saturday, March 8, at the polls.
Find out more about the referendum, advance voting opportunities and where to vote at www.sechelt.ca.
© Coast Reporter