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Firehall ‘misinformation’ sheet concerns View Royal councillor

View Royal Coun. David Screech is speaking out against an information sheet being distributed to residents that he says has misinformation about the new firehall project.

The sheet was sent out by a group critical of the town's proposal to borrow $7.99 million to build a new firehall, which will double as an emergency centre.

Council opted for what’s called an “Alternative Approval Process” to give the public a chance to have a say on the loan. The process requires residents who don’t agree with the borrowing plan to submit a form to the town.

If 10 per cent of registered voters, 770 people, sign the forms, the city must either hold a referendum or drop the plan.

The two-page information sheet being distributed to homes in View Royal has a number of inaccuracies, claim Screech. The town’s director of finance Jeannie Beauchamp also says there are problems with the information being presented.

The math is the main issue. The letter claims that taxes are going to go up 12 per cent every year for the next 20 years, in order to payback the loan needed to build the fire hall.

"That's just ridiculous," said Screech. "That's really the single thing that made me the most angry, because it's really designed to illicit fear rather than a rational discussion."

In reality, the worst case scenario is that property taxes will go up 12 per cent once, or broken up over two years, and then stay at that level.

The letter also extrapolates how much homeowners will pay, suggesting that if a homeowner’s property taxes in 2012 were $2,000 than a 12 per cent increase will equal a $240 increase, amounting to a total of $4,800 over 20 years.

For one thing, that formula contradicts the pamphlet’s original claim of a 12 per cent increase per year for 20 years.

Beyond that, it’s simply not true said Screech. Even if taxes do go up 12 per cent, the increase will only apply to the municipal portion of property taxes and not the entire tax bill (which includes levies for the regional district, school board and library system).

Also, the real costs will depend on the interest rate and borrowing term that the town agrees to at the time of the loan, which can’t be confirmed at this point. Early estimates suggest the rate will be around 4.5 per cent over 20 years.

"Again, it's just slapped together to elicit a reaction," Screech said.

In Screech's opinion, distributing this letter actually breaks the law. He said legislation states that, during a counter-petition process, nobody must knowingly distribute false information.

"They are giving out misinformation," Screech said. "To me that's just insane. It should be non-biased, factual information that they're handing out."

Another problem Screech has is the anonymity of the fact sheet. There are no names on it, no contact information and no way to identify who has sent it out.

Screech encourages residents to contact city councillors or town hall staff if they have questions over any aspect of the loan or the APP process. For more information, email finance@viewroyal.ca or call 250-479-6800.

"What really matters to me is that people make the decision based on fact, not on something fictional that's designed to get a reaction," Screech said.

The deadline to return counter-petition forms is Wednesday, July 11.

kwells@goldstreamgazette.com

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