Yellowknife residents have approved the municipality borrowing up to $10 million to help fund a new aquatic centre.
According to city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett, 1,857 people backed the measure in a referendum after votes were tallied Tuesday evening. There were 735 no votes.
The city will now press ahead with plans to borrow the money.
“We’re pretty thrilled with this, we think this is a very significant milestone for Yellowknife and Yellowknifers,” Bassi-Kellett said of the outcome.
Overall, the centre will cost $67.7 million to build. Much of the project’s funding will come from the territorial and federal governments.
City staff and councillors have been supportive of the project, having long maintained the current Ruth Inch Memorial Pool is at the end of its life and cannot cope with demand from residents. Waiting lists for programs like swimming lessons are currently hundreds long.
Without a yes vote, the project probably would not have gone ahead in its current form. City councillors could have instead considered scaling down designs for a new aquatic centre, or renovating the old pool – work which could still have cost at least $40 million.
The borrowing bylaw will next go through second reading at City Hall on December 13, then on to the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs for the minister’s approval.
The city is aiming to open the new aquatic centre by September 2024.
Low voter turnout
There was no minimum number nor percentage of voters required for the referendum to pass. The outcome was based on the majority of votes cast.
While Bassi-Kellett said the city did not yet have official numbers on voter turnout, initial figures indicate it was relatively low. By comparison, 5,344 of 9,544 eligible voters in Yellowknife cast a ballot in the 2018 municipal election.
Tuesday’s referendum was the first time the city has held a vote by mail-in ballot, a measure approved by councillors in response to Covid-19 restrictions.
“We really did try as hard as we could to make things as accessible and open and easy for people,” Bassi-Kellett said. “It’s a busy fall, there’s been lot’s going on, but we are really pleased to see and I’m very encouraged by the number of voters who did cast a ballot.”