Elector assent process unclear on water project

CRD alternative approval process does little to impress Colwood resident

An ad entitled “Notice to Electors Within the Capital Regional District” (Gazette, April 1) concerned an “Alternative Approval Process  for CRD Bylaw 3981 – Authorizing the borrowing of $14.8 million for acquiring, designing and constructing water distribution facilities in the western communities of the Juan de Fuca Water Distribution Area.”

This would be over the next five years, or an average of $3 million per year.

Let’s not dwell on the fact that “acquiring” was indicated before “designing” in the statement (hopefully lessons have been learned from Victoria’s Blue Bridge steel acquisition). The real issue is the concept of alternative approval process without a) making it clear up front what is being requested and b) sufficient information being provided to the electors to make a rational decision.

It states the CRD may proceed with the bylaw (i.e., to borrow) unless at least 5,561 electors sign and submit a pre-approved form by May 4. Such a response would force the CRD board to gain elector assent via referendum, to proceed with the bylaw adoption. However, it has to be read a couple of times to fully realize the intent.

Why would electors want a referendum? The debt servicing costs – principal and interest – would be recovered through the retail water rate paid by we, the taxpayers.

But the notice gives no information whatsoever about the new water distribution facilities, how the total cost was arrived at, how this borrowing will be accomplished or its possible terms and conditions.

Only by checking the proposed bylaw on the CRD website does one find it is a 15-year maximum and a debenture. Among the questions to be asked, who are the target investors?  If federal government borrowings are considered to be at the risk-free rate, even B.C. government borrowings then carry a risk premium. So what premium would a regional entity like the CRD borrowing carry? Will it be guaranteed by the B.C. government?

Would the CRD have to agree it could add a property tax levy in addition to an increased water rate to service the debt if necessary?  What will be the impact on the water rate?

Regrettably, the CRD lost the confidence and trust of a good many constituents over the as yet unresolved sewage treatment project. Electors in the western communities are being asked to again trust the CRD without the benefit of full disclosure, amid a process conceptually similar to the long since outlawed negative advertising that the federal government passed legislation against years ago.

This Notice to Electors obfuscated the issue and did not provide full disclosure. This ability to proceed with an alternative approval process is flawed and the B.C. government should move to prevent it or ensure it can only be accompanied by all the required information.

The CRD board has not earned my confidence that it should be given a pass on this issue. In fact, the bylaw received first, second and third reading all on the same day, Nov. 12, suggesting there was little, if any debate.

The form can be downloaded at http://www.bit.ly/1CdfVL7.

David Cox

Colwood