The construction of a new public safety building for the Township of Esquimalt has moved a step closer to reality.
At Monday’s meeting (March 1) council unanimously gave first, second and third reading to a loan authorization bylaw that would allow the municipality to borrow up to $35 million to build a new home for the Esquimalt Fire Department and VicPD.
Rather than undertaking a referendum to gauge support for the plan, however, council voted to use the alternative approval process for the first time. This month, elector response forms will go out to all eligible voters, who will have 32 days to register their opposition to the proposal.
If less than 10 per cent of the electorate indicate a desire for the township to hold a referendum on the matter, the project will be considered approved.
“This is not a process you take lightly,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins, noting that this will be the first time Esquimalt has used such a method to determine public support for a civic proposal.
“You really need to be clear about … the amount of money (to be borrowed),” she said. “You can’t go back to the public again, so it’s really important that we ensure the public are aware what they’re being asked for.”
The public can inspect architect’s drawings now on the township’s website. Plus, the township will soon launch a dedicated website for the project that will contain a 10-page information package detailing the process and the project.
Council heard at the meeting that a $42 million total price ceiling had been established for the project, which would also include ground floor commercial space along Esquimalt Road. Staff assured council of their confidence in not going over that budgeted amount.
“We have been extremely conservative,” said township chief administrative officer Laurie Hurst. “We have been looking at this knowing that we can’t go back for more money. We have to go out to AAP (alternative approval process) with the max that we would need to build this building, and also the strong confidence that we are doing that.”
A new public safety building has been in the conversation since the municipality consulted residents on what they’d like to do with the $17 amenity fund secured when Esquimalt became home of the regional sewage treatment plant. Initially $5 million from that fund was earmarked for the project, Desjardins said, and more may be available.
Other projects for which the funds have or will be used include the new pavilion building and other upgrades at Esquimalt Gorge Park, and recreation facilities improvements that have yet to be determined.
Desjardins said the amenity fund was essentially split into three pots of money, one each for the two major projects, and a third for smaller projects that rose to the top of the public’s wish list. She clarified the township’s focus for the fund:
“One of our strategic priorities is not to leave one cent in that pot that the CRD can take back,” she said.