Central Saanich council has voted to put the brakes on the town hall project that has been talked about for over ten years until a plan to pay back the debt racked up from the fire hall project is underway.
The vote was made Monday night during a council meeting after Mayor Alastair Bryson made a motion regarding the project.
“During Monday night’s meeting we were presented with a report from our CAO which we requested, outlining the potential next steps to the town hall project,” explained Bryson Tuesday.
“I stepped out of the chair to make my comments and put forth the motion. I appreciate staff had followed through with the report for potential next steps however my thoughts were that the timeline for a November referendum was too quick. The community has limited appetite to entertain further borrowing in the current economic climate. Families and those on fixed incomes are already stretched and they’re having to prioritize their personal budgeting and it’s important that council reflect that approach as well,” he said.
The municipality has been looking at the options for a new town hall as far back as the 1990s.
In 2000, critical upgrades to the police wing were made to the tune of around $300,000. In 2002, upgrades to the administrative side of the building were made at a cost of around $200,000.
In 2006, the district began seriously looking into the needs and desires regarding municipal facilities and the exploration has been ongoing.
A new firehall was constructed in the meantime to assure a safe base of emergency operations for the fire department and emergency services. The $8.9 million project was completed this past summer and the municipality estimates debt servicing fees will round the number out closer to $13 million total.
Bryson said the District will now turn its focus to that debt repayment, some of which will be achieved through the sale of municipally owned properties on White Road and Verling Avenue.
“The community wants to see options to expedite the pay back of the firehall expenses,” Bryson said.
“The fact that the motion passed reflects we’re prepared to pay down that debt before we make that next big investment.”
Councillor Zeb King said he’s happy with the choice made by council and added the need for a new town hall in Central Saanich hasn’t vanished completely — but it’s not “a compelling need right now.”
“A new town hall is a need, certainly,” he said, “but the mayor and council are now saying they want to pay down the debt on the new fire hall. It’s a recognition of how everything seems to be creeping up,” King said.
“Cost for transit, library and the municipality keep creeping up. As more gets added, without people’s income levels going up, I think … there has been a recognition that we’ll have to phase (the town hall project) differently.”
An early estimate of a new town hall building, according to King, was $16 to $19 million. That amount would probably have changed based on which of a series of options the municipality and its residents might have favoured.
King said the District was facing another $80,000 bill for consultants to begin the public consultation phase in the lead up to the November 2014 referendum.
Steps will now be taken to address any immediate safety and health concerns in the current town hall building to ensure the safety and wellness of staff is maintained.
— With files from Steven Heywood