Do Yellowknife residents want a new aquatic centre or do they believe the territorial capital is better off not borrowing $10 million to build it?
That question will be answered by Tuesday evening. Eligible residents who have not yet voted in Yellowknife’s aquatic centre referendum have until 7pm to drop off their vote at City Hall, the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, or the multiplex.
The vote is in some respects a simple one: can the City of Yellowknife borrow $10 million to help build the new aquatic centre or can’t it? That’s the only question on the ballot.
City Hall says the current pool is nearing the end of its life, too small, and incapable of meeting demand, leading to waiting lists spanning hundreds of people.
The replacement would be a $70-million centre far better equipped to handle that demand. However, the city says it needs to borrow $10 million to cover that price tag (and raise taxes by just over one percent to meet the centre’s operating costs).
Some residents have expressed concern that mid-pandemic is not the right time to be borrowing that kind of money for an aquatic centre. Others say mid-pandemic is exactly the right time to be ensuring residents and their families have access to top-of-the-line recreation, without lengthy waiting lists, in their home city.
A yes vote means the centre gets built and opens by 2024, the city says.
So far, so simple. The complexity lies in what happens if residents vote no.
A no vote may well mean the city still spends tens of millions of dollars, but that money would end up renovating the old pool instead.
That’s because the vote is purely about the loan, not about whether or not to invest money in swimming.
City staff argue the level of demand for the current pool shows that Yellowknife has to have an aquatic centre of some sort. If the $10 million can’t be borrowed, they say, then several solutions that City Hall perceives to be far less than ideal will be assessed.
One is building a new pool that’s smaller than the current plan, which might not solve the waiting list problem. Another is refitting the old pool to bring it up to accessibility standards and prolong its life, but that’s been estimated to cost $40 million or more and the city says it would mean closing the pool for up to two years.
Before 8pm on Tuesday, the city expects to know how residents have voted. A simple majority is required. A gap of four or fewer votes between yes and no will trigger an automatic recount.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city manager, is scheduled to speak with reporters at around 8pm as the result becomes known.