River Road dike petition gets enough signatures to force referendum
Over 9,000 Prince George residents made it clear they are not okay with the city borrowing over $3.5 million to pay its portion of the River Road dike project.
The city was approved for a federal grant of about $5.4 million and the remainder of the cost-shared project was to be paid for out of a reserve fund.
However, in order to borrow that kind of money, a municipality must get a green light from taxpayers, either by calling a referendum, an action likely to cost the city about $70,000, or through the alternate approval process (AAP).
An AAP requires residents not in favour of the proposed action to fill out a ballot stating as much. If 10 per cent vote, which in this case is about 5,300 people, then the requested action can not be taken.
By the time the window of opportunity for people to make their wishes known closed at 5 p.m. April 24, there were 9,653 response forms in. Of those, 382 were determined to be invalid, leaving 9,271 received, and the River Road dike project circling the drain.
Eric Allen has been at the forefront of a grass-roots movement to gain enough votes to force the city to either hold a referendum on the issue or cancel the project as proposed.
“I am elated with the number of people who signed the petition,” Allen said. “There was almost twice as many signatures as required.”
He added he is hoping the city does not go forward with a referendum, but rather backs away from the project.
“It would be a waste of $70,000,” he said. “A lot of people out there have this issue on their mind, and many of them just didn’t get around to signing the petition.”
Allen said he isn’t sure if the federal grant money is earmarked specifically for the River Road dike project, or if it can be used for flood mitigation in general. If so, he said perhaps the city can find another legitimate use for it. However, he maintains that municipalities should not be in the ‘flood business’ anyway.
“We are not in the flood business. It is a provincial responsibility,” Allen said.
Allen delivered about 4,500 ballots to city hall the day before deadline, putting him in a position to speak to a lot of people about their concerns about the project going forward.
He said people had two main issues which were reiterated nearly across the board.
“People are really tired of the city spending money on mega projects. They are incensed about the roads. Basically they want more fiscal responsibility. They want money spent on something tangible. They are not happy with how their money is being spent,” he said.
Allen intends to be at the next council meeting since the issue is on the agenda. During the meeting staff will present the results of the AAP as well as the two options council has moving forward, either to proceed to a referendum or to discontinue the project as it is currently proposed.