The District of Lake Country is proceeding with the Alternative Approval Process to seek permission from residents to boost taxes 1.68 per cent and borrow $2.6 million to buy 16 kilometres of the CN Rail corridor that passes through Lake Country boundaries.
In a unanimous vote at Lake Country council Tuesday, the district approved three readings of a loan borrowing bylaw that sets the stages for the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) as the district looks to borrow half of its $5.1 million share to purchase the rail corridor as part of a multi-jurisdictional group that has agreed to buy the corridor from CN Rail for $22 million.
Coun. Bill Scarrow asked why the district couldn’t hold a referendum question to poll its residents whether or not they want to purchase the rail line.
“A referendum timeline does not work with the current negotiations going on,” said Lake Country corporate services manager Reyna Seabrook. “We would not have been able to meet the deadline of March 31 with a referendum. In regard to the AAP, we have a huge communications process that we are undertaking. There will be open houses and newspaper ads as much as possible.”
Seabrook told councillors that a referendum question would cost about the same as a general election. This November’s civic election cost Lake Country over $16,000 while the AAP has very few actual costs to the district as residents must sign a petition voicing opposition.
If 10 per cent of residents oppose the tax hike to raise funds, the district must find another way to purchase the line.
“That would mean all of the partners would go back to their boards and there would be a discussion about how to proceed,” said Seabrook.
#LakeCountry council praised project, said public is behind it. No mention of the Okanagan Indian Band’s claims to the territory.
— Kevin Parnell (@KP_media1) December 17, 2014
District councillors praised the chance to purchase the rail line moving through Lake Country and maintain control of the corridor, some 16 kilometres running through Lake Country.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” said Coun. Rob Geier. “I’ve heard some residents say ‘why don’t you let Kelowna have it.’ But I don’t see that as a solution. I think it’s important that we have ownership of the land and we have full control over it.”
While the district moves forward with the AAP to raise about half the funds, the other half—$2.5 million—will come in the form of a loan from Kelowna which will be interest free for three years without any timeline to pay back the loan.
Lake Country administrator Alberto De Feo called the loan a “really good deal” for Lake Country.
“This means we have an opportunity to look at the portion of the land that is in excess of what we need for the corridor and have an opportunity to sell that land at whatever market value there is and pay back the City of Kelowna,” said De Feo. “In the end the Memorandum of Understanding with Kelowna is pretty favourable in that there is no specific deadline that we have to payback the city.”
The 30 day AAP process won’t actually begin until mid-January. Lake Country councillors will be asked to formally approve the process at its meeting Jan. 6 before the district can properly advertise the process. During the 30 day AAP process, forms to sign in opposition to the borrowing bylaw will be available at Lake Country municipal hall as well as on its web site at okanaganway.ca.