Bowen won’t be having a referendum this spring after all

The municipality and Undercurrent previously said a referendum to borrow up to $4 million for the community centre project would be held before May 4.

The community centre referendum, where Bowen Island Municipality was poised to ask if community members support the municipality borrowing up to $4 million for a new community centre-municipal hall, has been put off, at least until the fall.

The municipality recently received word from the province that the project didn’t need to go to referendum in order to remain eligible for the Canada Infrastructure Grant, as previously thought and reported.

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“We thought we would be having a referendum this spring but now we don’t have to,” said Sophie Idsinga BIM’s communications coordinator (and the appointed deputy elections officer for the referendum).

BIM applied for a $7.96 million federal-provincial infrastructure grant back in January after a fall-winter awareness and fundraising campaign for the community centre project. If successful, the grant would cover just over half the cost of building the facility.

The project proponents had been hoping to raise enough money so as to not require tax-affecting borrowing but despite a million-dollar donation, fundraising fell short.  

This prompted Bowen council to approve a loan authorization bylaw mid-February, triggering a referendum, which was supposed to be held within 80 days of authorization (before May 4). Now a referendum will not happen until after the grant announcement in the fall, when Bowen will know whether or not it got the money.

The $14.5 million proposed facility, driven by both BIM and the Bowen Island Arts Council (BIAC), includes municipal offices, a performing arts space, gathering areas and multipurpose rooms. Proponents have described the project as “shovel-ready” with a location, a building permit and mostly-complete working drawings.

Idsinga says that the referendum delay is a good thing.

“We can continue to build momentum for the project,” said Idsinga. “It’s great news for the municipality and for the project.”

Project co-manager Shauna Jennings said that her team will continue working  on communication, will go ahead with some open houses (which had been planned in leadup to the referendum) and fundraising.

The referendum delay could allow time for the chips to fall in other controversial municipal issues –the fire hall and use of the community lands. Some community members and councillors, particularly Rob Wynen, have raised concerns about the number and cost of BIM’s projects (including the fire hall, for which a 2017 referendum authorized BIM to borrow up to $3 million, and a water treatment facility for the Cove Bay Water System).

Jennings’ report to council on Feb. 19 said that a referendum will cost $20,000.

Idsinga noted that the municipality will be updating its website with the new referendum information.

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