Pratt decries misinformation over $10 million loan proposal

Mayor holds press conference to combat 'misleading' information about AAP proposal to borrow $10 million.

Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt came out swinging against critics of the AAP process on Wednesday, pushing back on a campaign of ‘misinformation’ regarding a proposal to borrow $10 million for infrastructure upgrades.

During a press conference in council chambers, Pratt emphasized the importance of the loan — roughly $6 million of which will go towards redoing the surface and infrastructure of 2nd St. South — while also decrying the rumours that tax rates are going to skyrocket.

“The timing to borrow money is right now,” said Pratt. “We have low interest rates, we have an available workforce and we have the asset plan that we can implement and put strongly to work for us now.”

To pay for the $10 million loan, council has tweaked general municipal property taxes and utility parcel taxes. For residential taxes, there will be a $16 increase per $100,000 in assessed value, and a $41 increase for businesses. Utility parcel taxes will be increasing $15 for both residential and business.

The loan will be paid off over a 20-year span.

Pratt broke down the math.

“For example,” Pratt said, “if you have a house that your assessed value is $300,000, your cost is going to be three times $16, which is $48, plus your $15 utility tax, which is $63 a year.

“That’s $5.25 per month. That’s not even a package of cigarettes, it’s a glass of beer, it’s a cup of coffee. But people, because they’ve been fed wrong information or look at the wrong picture altogether, they get all upset and think this is all crazy.”

Pratt said that city council has a mandate to fix the roads after Cranbrook voters swept out every sitting councillor and the former mayor in the 2015 election.

The mayor charged that defeated councillors are behind the campaign to shoot down the AAP loan.

“There is a group of individuals in this community actively petitioning residents door to door to sign an elector response form that says they are against the proposed borrowing,” said Pratt.

“Some of these individuals were actually previous councillors that, during their tenure on council, did nothing about the infrastructure and that’s part of the problem of what we have today.

“…What concerns me greatly is we don’t know what these individuals are telling people and are deeply concerned that what are residents are being told by this group may not be factual.”

On the subject of taxes, Pratt also brought up council’s efforts to keep rates as low as possible. He referenced a 5.77 per cent tax increase in the 2013 budget under the previous council, and noted that last year’s increase was only 2.58 per cent, and 2.26 per cent this year — both of which included the one-per cent dedicated road tax, and achieved without cutting city services.

“I’m a taxpayer on residential properties in Cranbrook and a business property,” Pratt said. “Do you think for one minute I’m not concerned with raising taxes?”

The city is actively pursuing government infrastructure grants, Pratt said, noting that there is a $120 billion federal fund and a $148 million provincial fund to apply to. All the dam rehabilitation work at Idlewild Lake is being done with grant money from the federal gas tax fund, he added.

Additionally, all work up at Idlewild Lake, plus the road construction over the summer is being done by local contractors as well, he added.

Pratt welcomed anyone with any questions or concerns about the AAP loan proposal to call him or other city councillors at city hall at 250-426-4211. He also encouraged people to go to their website at www.cranbrook.ca/aap that has a web tool that can calculate the exact dollar increase based on a property value.

Pratt said he has had encounters with people who were initially opposed to the AAP loan, but changed their mind after having a conversation about the subject. Anyone who has signed the elector response form, but wishes to change their mind can download an elector withdrawal form on the same www.cranbrook.ca/aap website.

In order for the AAP to be defeated, more than 10 per cent of electors must sign an elector response form opposing the proposal. If less than 10 per cent of electors oppose the proposal, it will move forward.

Even if the AAP is defeated, the city will likely take the issue to referendum, which will come at an additional cost of $50,000, said Pratt.

“If this Alternative Approval Process stops the borrowing, we will go to referendum and I have no doubt it will pass,” he said. “Unfortunately, referendums cost upwards of $50,000 and the reality is if we go to referendum, that will delay this significant roadwork till 2018.”

While Pratt says he is concerned about misinformation over an Alternative Approval Process to borrow $10 million, a local resident leading a campaign against the proposal says he has received all his data straight from city hall.

Wendell Dalke, who has organized a group of people campaigning against the proposal to borrow $10 million for road infrastructure upgrades, emphasizes he is not opposed to fixing local roads, but says it should be done without an unnecessary burden to local taxpayers.

The loan is expected to take 20 years to pay off, which Dalke says would amount to a 2.1 per cent increase per year, a figure he says he got from talking to city hall staff and researching reports on the city website.

“We’ve been giving people the facts as they’ve been given to us and we’re not trying to trick anyone, we’re just trying to inform people and let them make an informed decision.”

Currently, the city employs a dedicated one per cent tax for road work, but is seeking a $10 million loan through the AAP for the replacement of infrastructure and road surfacing of 2nd St. South next year, at a cost of roughly $6-$7 million.

Dalke hopes that there will be a chance to have a public meeting or open house in the near future to talk about the process before the Oct. 31st deadline.

“I think everyone would benefit from the city and council having a public consultation with regards to really clarifying what their hope is and why they’re doing it.

“I think it helps eliminate confusion and also puts perspective on it because maybe people would be more inclined to borrow the money if they heard exactly what is going on, but at the same time, I’m looking at it and I don’t want a tax increase and if we can fix roads without a tax increase, that’s where I stand with it.”