EDITORIAL – Referendum is the best way to decide PAC, but not too soon

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

THE NEXT DECISION to be made in reconsideration of the Performing Arts Centre is how to go about borrowing the money.

Of the $70-million estimated cost for the centre, up to $45 million will have to be borrowed by the City, depending on senior-government grants and donations.

Staff will tell Kamloops City council Tuesday there are two basic options for gaining the approval by taxpayers for borrowing the money. One is a traditional referendum similar to the one that was defeated in 2015.

The other is what used to be called a counter petition, now known as an “alternative approval process.” The City could signal its intention to borrow the money unless 10 per cent of the electorate sign a petition against it. Even if they do, the City could then decide to go to a full referendum.

Unless council wants to cause an unnecessary rift in the community, the logical method to obtain taxpayer assent is a referendum. A full vote is the only way to properly gauge if community consensus has changed since the unsuccessful 2015 referendum.

According to the staff report, borrowing up to $45 million won’t require a property tax increase because other debts are being retired, which should pave the way for approval.

But there’s a reluctance to address the parking issue, which made up a large part of the defeated 2015 plan. If council chooses a new referendum, it could be held as early as next March.

That would be a mistake. The City’s new parking management plan won’t be ready until the second quarter of next year.

A referendum is the way to go, but not before the details and costs of all associated impacts — including parking — are clearly set out for the public.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He writes five commentaries a week for CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (7953 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Referendum is the best way to decide PAC, but not too soon

  1. Well that should have been 49 million for the failed 2015 referendum. The point is, we are looking at virtually the same project that was rejected in 2015. The main difference seems to be a more fanciful artists ‘conception’ and cutting out the essential (but expensive) parking. Am I still in favour of dynamic arts venues downtown, yes, but with a caution. Everyone who wants a thoughtful, and prudent, approach to this should search for and read “Let’s get real about it: The arts as an important downtown revitalization tool — Redux. Part 1. By N.David Milder. Milder is a working/professional downtown revitalization specialist. He’s talking about the arts and downtown for small to medium sized cities.

  2. There is not much difference between a 2020 referendum to borrow 45 million dollars against the 2015 failed referendum to borrow 45 million. We are talking 4 million. The turnout in 2015 was low. There is no guarantee a referendum next year would get more out. Our city will again spend extravagantly to promote and market the concept. It would be interesting to know the sum total expended for marketing last time as well as all costs of the failed referendum. It’s much less expensive to go with the alternate process – giving folks opposed, to borrowing for this project, opportunity to mount a counter petition. Tactically it also makes sense for the city. The larger issue, and one the citizens will not vote on either way, is how much will it cost to operate this seemingly grandiose project -for decades ahead? How realistic are the financial estimates? Take the time to compare the 2015 and 2019 plan revenue estimates and you see startling differences. What explains the disparities? Even the metrics or line items are different making it to tough to compare. We need to drill down into the numbers. Let’s see how flexible the proponents are willing to be on the design and staffing. I’m in favour of a performing arts centre, but not the dreamed for 1200 seat posh concert hall. I’m voting yes for the 45 m loan, but if and only if the citizens get a real say in what we commit to build and how much we are willing to subsidize operating costs in future. That would be novel and, I think, essential.

  3. A referendum? Yikes! But an honest discussion and realistic cost/benefits analysis for sure.

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