The three newest members of council, who often vote together, nearly threw the city’s financial plan into disarray.
Councillors Ron Kerr and Larry Samson, along with Mayor Walter Jakeway, voted against a draft bylaw that would allow city staff to borrow up to $10.2 million to replace aging water infrastructure and $4.8 million to upgrade sewer infrastructure. Both would be borrowed over 15 years.
Because Coun. Ryan Mennie was not at the meeting, that put the vote at 3-3 which defeated the motion. Councillors Andy Adams, Claire Moglove and Mary Storry voted in favour of borrowing the money, which had already been approved by council when it passed its five-year financial plan in January.
That concerned City Manager Andy Laidlaw who warned in a report to council that “cancelling plans to proceed with these infrastructure upgrades would jeopardize the water and sewer systems by relying on infrastructure well past its useful life.”
Laidlaw was surprised by council’s decision and suggested councillors go in-camera, out of the public view, immediately after the vote.
Mayor Walter Jakeway pointed out the regular council meeting was nearly complete and an in-camera session was only minutes away.
That seemed to satisfy Laidlaw, who, along with council, quickly cleared out of council chambers after the public portion of the council meeting came to a close.
What was said is unknown because it was behind closed doors but after 35 minutes in-camera, council returned to the council chambers and reversed its decision – allowing the bylaw to proceed.
Jakeway said the councillors that voted for the bylaw to go ahead did not want to re-visit the five-year financial plan, which has already been adopted, and would have waited for Mennie to return, and using a tool at council’s disposal to re-consider a motion, would have voted to overturn the rejection decision.
Jakeway was against going ahead with borrowing the money saying the city first needs to get its costs down.
He also felt the question of going into debt should go before the electors in the form of a referendum question during the November 14 city election.
Samson said he was against borrowing money when the city has two huge, expensive projects on the go – the $4.7 million downtown revitalization upgrade and an expected $4 million price tag to replace the city’s drinking water system which will become obsolete with BC Hydro’s John Hart Dam upgrade project.
“I think til we get those done and know the final costs, the rest should be bare bones,” Samson said.