Greater Vernon residents are being asked to borrow $70 million on the master water plan, but confidence has been undermined since many of the elected officials who spearheaded the process are voting no.
And it’s fair to question how a complex document can be developed and the legal requirements for a borrowing referendum can proceed when the decision-makers aren’t on board.
Not wanting to speculate on motives, I asked those individuals who helped nudge the process along and are seeking re-election why they will not mark an X for borrowing.
“I believe in the plan. We had experts work on the plan for two years and I endorsed it. It’s all to comply with health and safety standards,” said Catherine Lord, a Regional District of North Okanagan director and Vernon councillor.
However, Lord says a no vote is needed to bring senior government on board.
“We just think it’s too expensive,” she said of the burden on local taxpayers alone.
“Whether it (strategy) will work or not, I don’t know. If the province and the feds came to the table with money, the plan would be palatable.”
Bob Spiers, a Greater Vernon Advisory Committee director and Vernon councillor, says his agreeing to the borrowing bylaw doesn’t translate into a personal endorsement.
“This was to ensure that those with a dog in the fight or skin in the game would make the decision rather than the counter petition alternative,” he said of a complicated procedure where 10 per cent of voters must sign a petition to stop borrowing instead of a more clearly understood referendum.
“Prior to that, I voted against the referendum and in support of a peer review.”
Doug Dirk, an RDNO director and Coldstream councillor, says the Interior Health Authority ordered the creation of a master water plan or fines could be levied.
“It is not the cheapest plan or the best use of water plan but a forced compromise,” said Dirk. “The reason I am not in support of the borrowing referendum is that I have not seen a justified risk management analysis to support the requirements imposed by IHA.”
Juliette Cunningham, GVAC chairperson and Vernon councillor, says there was a thorough review of options for the water utility.
“Of the nine options, this one had more flexibility and is the least costly,” she said.
Like Lord, Cunningham says a no vote may send a message to the provincial government that its standards are “too rich.”
“I hope there can be a conversation on standards.”
Mary-Jo O’Keefe, a NORD director and Vernon councillor who is running for city mayor, was reported by the media, including myself, as opposing the referendum. She says she was misquoted.
“I am personally supporting the master water plan because the standards are national and have been accepted provincially. These standards are not going to change and the longer we delay in starting the upgrade the more expensive the cost to our citizens will be,” she said.
“In speaking to staff, there is a possibility of the federal government announcing infrastructure grants and the only project that will be eligible will need to be shovel-ready. So if the decision is to continue to spend on additional peer reviews, we will not be ready to access these grants.”
Other master water plan architects, such as acclaimed BX-Silver Star director Mike Macnabb, are urging residents to vote for borrowing, while others, like Coldstream’s Gyula Kiss, have been consistently opposed.
Added to the mix are newcomers vying for seats in Vernon and Coldstream who are largely lining up against the plan.
With so many mixed opinions before voters, and particularly from those who shepherded the process along from its infancy, the outcome of the Nov. 15 referendum is anything but certain.