Sunshine Coast governments are working together on a plan to build a new pool in Sechelt and a rink in Gibsons.
On Jan. 22, the Sunshine Coast Regional District board will start to hash out the details of the recreation project, roughly estimated to cost $14 million. If all goes smoothly, the project could go to referendum in the fall of 2004 and the new facilities might open in 2006.
But recreation referendums on the Sunshine Coast rarely go smoothly. Since 1998, three such referendums have failed amid bitter controversies over where the new recreation facilities should be built and who should pay for them.
Ed Steeves, chair of the SCRD board, thinks this Coast-wide funding initiative may succeed where others have failed.
"We have a very good chance this time," said Steeves in an interview Jan. 15. "Separately each municipality has gone to referendum and lost We think this is a good plan because it promotes an even taxation structure."
The tax burden would be shared by the entire Sunshine Coast except for Pender Harbour, said Steeves. Pender Harbour is not willing to participate because the long distance to Sechelt and Gibsons means few Pender residents would use the new facilities, said Steeves. Instead Pender will continue to fund its own swimming pool.
The SCRD is considering several different forms of taxation, and different parts of the Coast may choose different tax schemes."We can go by population or we can go by assessment," said Steeves. "We're trying to get all areas of the Coast paying the same money."
Fair taxation was a big issue in previous recreation referendums, creating regional vote splits. In 1998, a referendum to build a pool and arena with Coast-wide funding barely passed despite a massive "no" vote in Pender Harbour, then was overturned by a court challenge. In 2001, a south Coast referendum for an ice arena was defeated by a big "no" vote in Roberts Creek, and in 2002, a north Coast referendum for a pool won big support in Sechelt but was defeated by a handful of votes in Halfmoon Bay.
The new plan calls for renovating the Sunshine Coast Arena in Sechelt and the Gibsons pool, as well as building a new Sechelt pool and Gibsons arena. All four facilities would then be operated in coordination.
Steeves hopes to reduce the local tax bill by winning federal grants for the project. The SCRD will apply for $3.5 million from the Olympic Legacy Fund, which would pay half the cost of an Olympic-sized rink in Gibsons. For the pool, the SCRD will apply for a federal infrastructure grant which might provide $2 million. Many details of the project remain to be decided, including the critical question of location. Presently plans call for the pool to be built on Block 7 next to the Sechelt library and the rink on Town of Gibsons property on Shaw Road. But there are groups lobbying for other locations as well. New cost estimates will be needed, since the estimates done for previous referendums are now out of date. And all local governments, the SCRD, Gibsons, Sechelt and the Sechelt Indian Band, will have to put aside historical differences and agree on the details of the plan.
That is a tall order, but Steeves believes it's achievable.
"Everybody seems very much willing to participate in Coast-wide cooperation and Coast-wide funding," he said.