What's going to happen, either way, after Yellowknife's pool referendum

·3 min read
A concept design for the proposed aquatic centre in Yellowknife. Yellowknifers are invited to vote on giving the city permission to borrow around $10-million to build a new aquatic centre. (City of Yellowknife - image credit)
A concept design for the proposed aquatic centre in Yellowknife. Yellowknifers are invited to vote on giving the city permission to borrow around $10-million to build a new aquatic centre. (City of Yellowknife - image credit)

Yellowknifers have a little more than a week to decide if they want the city to borrow $10 million to build a new, $67 million aquatic centre to replace the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool.

The project is going to a referendum on Nov. 23.

What is a referendum?

A referendum differs from an election, because it asks residents to directly vote on a particular policy or decision instead of allowing elected representatives to make decisions.

The referendum is required under the Cities, Towns and Villages Act, because the city would incur long-term debt by choosing to build the new facility.

If Yellowknifers vote yes:

If Yellowknife residents vote yes, construction on the aquatic centre is scheduled to begin in 2022 and finish in 2024. The city has already selected Clark Builders, a large Canadian construction firm with offices across Canada, including in Yellowknife, to build it.

The city has said the new pool will have expanded programming, two 25-metre pools, a lazy river, two slides, a hot tub/therapy pool and a steam room.

In a news release last week, the city said the new pool would accommodate current and future community demand. As of 2019, the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool was already operating at capacity and 819 people were put on a waitlist for programs.

Sara Minogue/CBC
Sara Minogue/CBC

The city expects municipal taxes to increase by an estimated 1.27 per cent to cover the facility's annual costs, once it would open. The city would also have to decide what to do with the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, and is budgeting $75,000 for a structural assessment.

The facility is expected to cost $67,735,329, excluding GST, and the City of Yellowknife would incur a debt to pay for it.

But the city would not be paying for it alone. It would tap into federal money from the Small Communities, Formula Funding and Gas Tax Funding, in addition to using municipal money it draws from its Community Public Infrastructure Funding, Capital Fund and Major Community Facility Reserve as well as borrowing.

"It is important to note that the city secured $12.9 million in federal funding that can only go toward a new facility and cannot be spent on renovating the [Ruth Inch Memorial Pool]," the city said in the news release.

If Yellowknifers vote no:

Grant White, director of community services for the city, said at a recent council meeting that if residents vote against the aquatic centre, it won't go ahead as planned but other options would be on the table.

One option would be to reconsider renovating the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, which the city expected would cost $41 million back in 2018.

This would involve closing the pool for two years, leaving Yellowknifers with no indoor place to swim in the meantime.

The city has said costs to continue running the existing pool would continue to rise, and that any upgrades would need to include accessibility requirements.

Council could also seek a less expensive design of a new aquatic centre and proceed with something smaller in scope that doesn't require borrowing if the referendum fails.

How to vote

To vote, someone must be a 18 or older and a Canadian citizen. They also must have resided within Yellowknife's municipal boundary for 12 months in a row, on the day of the vote.

Voting is taking place through mail-in ballots, which can either be mailed or placed in the drop box at city hall.

Anyone who needs help with their ballot kit or who didn't get one can vote at the Multiplex or the Tree of Peace on Nov. 23 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Ballots received after 7 p.m. will not be counted.

People can also request a proxy voter application by 3 p.m. on November 18, 2021 from the Returning Office at City Hall. To inquire about proxy votes, residents can email cityclerk@yellowknife.ca

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