This Wednesday, residents of Rocanville will have a chance to have their say on plans for a new community hall.
The town is holding a referendum vote to decide if they will borrow $360,000 to contribute to the building of a new $2.4 million hall in town, and co-sign for an additional $765,000 loan that the hall committee plans to pay back with fundraising.
Earlier this year, PotashCorp announced an $800,000 commitment to the hall, covering one third of the cost to build it. The second third would be raised by fundraising, and the final third divided between the RM and Town of Rocanville.
The town instituted a $100 per year tax increase to cover the cost of the loan.
The town, as the co-signer of the $765,000 fundraising loan, would also be, in a worst-case scenario where that portion cannot be fundraised at all, be taking on the responsibility of paying that debt along with their $360,000.
If the town had to cover that cost, it would use some of the funds now being directed to a $71,983 annual loan payment that will no longer be required as of next July.
Because of the cost, disagreement about the hall pushed the town to decide to hold a referendum vote to determine if they would commit the town’s portion.
“I never even thought of (a referendum),” says Mayor Daryl Fingas, who sits on the hall committee. “I thought it would be okay and everybody would go for it. But why be negative and say, ‘no we can’t have a referendum’—it’s everybody’s community and I know for some other members on council, myself included, it takes a load off of our shoulders to not be the final ones saying go ahead and do it.”
Fingas says that he in the past few weeks, he has been hearing positive support for the hall, and says he’s hopeful that voters will come out on Wednesday.
At the advance poll two weeks ago, there were 60 voters, whereas, Fingas says, a typical municipal election would see less than a dozen voters at the advance poll.
“We have told people that regardless if you are in favor or not, you should come out and vote, because it is a referendum, and that’s what the people wanted,” he says. “It’s possible it will be a no vote, but we tried . . . Whichever way it goes, the people have voted for it, and we’ll see what happens.”
Around town leading up to the vote, some businesses, homes and even cars bore signs reading “Vote Yes on August 5.” The signs are part of a push to encourage voting on Wednesday.
“The business community is pretty strongly in favor of hall, and we think there is community support for it, we just want people to get out and vote,” says Steve Fortney with the committee. “We sent out several mail-outs, there was a four-page insert in the last community calendar talking about costs and trying to pass on information and address criticism.”
Fortney says that he is confident Wednesday’s vote will be for a new hall, but only if voters participate.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, he says that support for fundraising continues to be present—earlier, the committee received a $35,000 donation, and recently, the Economic Development Organization made a $10,000 donation as well.
Fortney says that he’s had many people pledge donations, however, the committee decided to not start fundraising until the hall was approved, to avoid having to return all the donations made if the hall did not go ahead.
Through the hall building process, because the town is co-signing for the fundraising committee, they will be managing all of the spending.
“The committee will only make recommendations, but all of the funds and purchase orders have to be approved by town council—the committee will not be spending any money personally. The funds raised are all turned over to town, who will administer, and is subject to full audits on spending,” Fortney says.
If the referendum returns a no vote, the decision will be binding for three years, and the $800,000 committment from PotashCorp will likely find another charitable use for those funds.
Around Rocanville, there are differing opinions about the new hall both within the public and on town council.
Councillor Stan Langley owns Universe Satellite Sales, and is strongly in favor of seeing the hall built.
“I know after we have that thing, there’s going to be so many functions held in here—we can go back to having dances, and cabarets for example. It will be better for the town.
If you stand still and not do anything in your town, it’s going to die. We have a ton of young people in town that are really in favor of this, and they will look at it for a long time, it’s going to be a great thing for them,” Langley says.
He says that he sees a number of opportunities in the community with a big venue. One of the biggest criticisms for the new hall is that it’s too large for a town the size of Rocanville. Langley feels that isn’t an issue.
“The (committee) has gone out and talked to other towns who have halls, and learned the dos and don’ts,” he says. “Of all the people whom the committee has gone out and talked to, they are going to build a hall that is going to accommodate everything. A lot of halls don’t have any storage, and we will have that, you won’t have to haul tables and chairs in.”
Langley says that in speaking to the public about the hall, he thinks about 70 per cent of voters will be in favor, and 30 per cent opposed. His fellow councillor, Ken Nixon, believes the opposite.
“I’ve talked to a few people, and those I’ve talked to are thinking the same as me—we have a lot of infrastructure issues that haven’t been taken care of over a long time, and we are falling behind on that, and they are not sure if we should waste that much money on the hall,” he says. “I think if people get out and vote, I think it will be a no, but I don’t know if everybody will get out and vote. The worst thing is when you don’t get out and vote and state your opinion, you have to live with the decisions that were made.”
Nixon says he’s never been opposed to the idea of a new community hall, but he believes the one being proposed by the committee is too big and too expensive for the town.
He says that his biggest concern is that the hall will not be able to fund itself.
Nixon says early on in the decision making process, he suggested that the hall committee work with the curling rink board to make renovations to that building to make it a more multi-purpose community hall.
It would need the old arena removed and a new one built. But Nixon argues that the infrastructure is already there as well as the electrical, heating, and plumbing for significantly less cost than the proposed hall.
He says that plan was rejected, partially because of the shape of the rink, and because the committee did not want a hall that had to be closed for the winter months, though Nixon says the curling board was willing to shorten their season to three months.
Overall, he says he can see the town spending the tax dollars in better ways.
“I like fiscal responsibility, and I don’t see this being fiscally responsible in this situation—we’re wanting something that we really can’t afford and don’t need,” he says.
Residents are polarized on the debate as well. Traci Burke, who owns Super Thrifty, says she is in favor of the hall and would be disappointed to see the vote fail.
“I feel this is the only chance we have in Rocanville to get a community hall built,” she says. “The hall committee we have now has spent so many hours and travelled many miles to get this hall designed to be one of the best in the area—the chance will not happen again.”
Darci Palmer agrees that the opportunity may not come back again for Rocanville, particularly the opportunity to have one-third of the cost donated by PotashCorp.
“If it’s a no vote, there will be disappointed people, and it will be frustrating for those on the board who have put in a lot of time and effort, but I would hope we would just keep going along and try to fundraise if the town doesn’t want to support it,” she says.
As part of the Aquatic Centre Board, Palmer says the board would welcome the hall.
“We are always looking for somewhere to do a bigger fundraiser, but there is not a great facility to do it. Right now, to have a cabaret, you have to haul in tables and chairs, and gather up supplies from a bar—if we had a hall, it would be a lot less work for volunteers putting events on,” she says.
Others in the community are strongly opposed to the hall and critical of the plan.
“I don’t think this is the time for something like this—the town is in debt, and we are building something we don’t need,” says Stewart Nixon.
He feels that it’s not reasonable for Rocanville to have a hall larger than Moosomin, when the population is about a third the size. He thinks that the operating costs will be too high, like they were with the old community hall in Rocanville that was shut down around a decade ago.
In his mind, the hall itself is not the issue, but rather the cost and timing.
“A smaller hall would be an easier sell,” he said.
The poll will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. this Wednesday at the Town Office for voters, and eligible voters are told to bring photo identification. To be eligible, voters must be Canadian citizens, over the age of 18, be a resident or landowner of Rocanville for the past three months, and be a resident of Saskatchewan for the past six months.