Gordon Scott hands his ballot to Monica Merkosky in the referendum vote last week in Rocanville.

Rocanville votes Yes to new hall

August 10, 2015 8:16 am
Julia Dima

Rocanville residents have said yes to a new hall.

In a referendum held Wednesday on the town financially supporting a new community hall, 391 people voted, with 277, or 71 per cent, voting yes, and 114, 29 per cent, voting no.

The voter turnout was higher than it’s been for most municipal elections, according to town administrator Monica Merkosky. “It’s a very good turnout. We believe there are around 700 eligible voters, and the remainder are under 18,” she says. “So that is more than we’ve ever had in an election.”

Mayor Daryl Fingas says he’s impressed with the turnout, and thinks things went smoothly considering the town has never held a referendum before.

“We were pretty impressed with voter turnout. It was an important decision to be made, so I am glad townspeople came out and voted,” he says.

For the hall committee, a yes vote is what they were hoping for, but more importantly, a large turnout.

“We really wanted a big turnout so we got an honest opinion of how the town felt as much as anything—of course we wanted it to go ahead, but we really wanted a lot of people to express their opinion and we got that,” says Steve Fortney on the hall committee.

“We felt that a strong turnout was to our advantage. We felt that a lot of people wanted the hall, but we thought the no side was more motivated to come out and vote than the yes side, so we were worried people might take it for granted that it was going to be a yes vote.”

The next step, Fortney says, is to get things moving with the contractor.

“We will approach the town and initiate the contracts for construction—we’ll get the town council’s permission to authorize the contractor to get his engineering in line and engineering drawings approved,” he says.

The goal is to have construction starting in three weeks.

Fortney says the contractor is hoping to have the building closed in before winter so the workers do not have to be working outside during the winter months.

As for fundraising, Fortney says it will be a long process, but things are already getting started. Before the referendum was held, he says a number of individuals and businesses approached the committee looking to make a contribution, but the committee decided not to accept any donations until they knew the hall would be built.

Now, Fortney says they will be approaching those individuals and starting the flow of donations.

The committee has also been applying for grants throughout the process, and will start their fundraising push by approaching local businesses for large donations. There has already been a $35,000 donation pledged, and the Economic Development Board committed a $10,000 donation as well.

In terms of canvassing and approaching the public, Fortney says the committee hopes to start doing that in October, when the hall structure is up.

“We think our big campaign in the community will probably be in October. We’d like to do it when the walls are going up. We think that seeing a building going up will generate a lot of excitement, and people will feel more like donating when they see things happening,” he says.

The hall committee has discussed a number of community fundraising efforts, but one thing they are hoping to bring back to Rocanville to raise funds is the Lucky Lottery.

When the rink committee was fundraising, they raised $900,000 for the rink, and held Lucky Lotteries. Fingas says that for the years these lotteries were done, they generated a lot of income.

“It didn’t sell out in the first year or two, but we were always very close. They made upwards of $100,000 some years, but around the last year, it was going down, and we raised around $20,000. But, it averaged $50,000 to 60,000 after expenses,” Fingas says. “We’ll go out and try it once and see what happens. We’ll be able to tell if people are interested in that with the first lottery.”

Fortney says he knows the fundraising will be a long-term effort and will require a lot of work, but he’s hopeful the committee and community will be able to raise the funds and hold good community fundraisers.

Despite the hall going forward, 114 of the voters were opposed to the hall. Fortney and Fingas hope that once the hall is built and becomes a part of the community, those who are opposed now may change their tune and be glad to have the hall.

“We did go for a public referendum, so we hopefully let the community express their opinion. There may be people continually opposed to the hall, but hopefully they recognize that this was a democratic process, and the people expressed their will,” Fortney says. “We will try to have a good project and involve everybody who wants to be involved.”

Councillor Ken Nixon, who was not in favor of the town financially supporting the new hall, says he plans to be involved to ensure the committee is held accountable.

“If this thing ever starts overrunning, I will say to council that the taxpayers don’t pay anymore. If you run over budget, leave the doors shut until you have enough money. I congratulated them on the vote after the referendum. Then I told them, ‘you got what you wanted. Now, do what you said you’d do.’ I also told them I would be their biggest critic, as they knew. You have to have somebody keeping them accountable for what they are doing,” Nixon says.

Nixon says he is still concerned that the operating costs and deficit will be higher once the hall is built. He hopes that those who voted for the hall will stand behind their view, and support the hall.

“For those people who voted for the hall, it was easy to go and put an x on the ballot, now let’s see if they can put an x on a cheque and see if they can realize it’s not the end of it putting that x on the ballot—there’s a whole bunch of work and it’s going to be going on indefinitely,” Nixon says.

Local business owners who were in favor of the hall say they are ready to put the x on the cheque.

Councillor Stan Langley owns Universe Satellite Sales, and has pushed for the community hall since it was announced. He says that the committee will see a donation from his business, and himself as a private citizen.

“Every event in that building brings new people into town, and they are all potential customers for me. I have grandchildren that will graduate some day, and it will be nice to watch them graduate in the comfort of that hall,” Langley says. “There are so many benefits for the town, and being a business owner, you want to see the town grow—people will come into town, and say, ‘There’s a curling rink, a skating rink, a swimming pool, a great kindergarten to grade 12 school here, they’ve got everything we need here, and they have a new town hall. This town is looking forward, they’re not sitting back, maybe we should live in Rocanville.’”

Langley says that the results of the referendum were what he expected, and he’s happy there was high voter turnout.

“It makes you feel good that people care—there’s a lot of people with good foresight for the town, to see the town keep moving forward,” he says. “There’s lots of people who have confidence in our town when they go ahead with something like that.”

Traci Burke is the pharmacist at the local Super Thrifty, and she says her business will definitely be making a donation for the new community hall as well.

“I previously told the committee that we will make a donation for the hall, and for any fundraising activities they hold, my family will be there, any time we can help,” she says.

Burke feels like the hall will bring many opportunities to town.

“I think the hall is going to bring the community together a bit better. There’s really no place to have a community function that has handicap accessibility—that’s a struggle with our older facilities.

“And it will hopefully do more for the arts community—we could have plays, musical programs, dances that we don’t have anymore, where both young and old feel comfortable,” she says.

Though she has been in favor of the hall for some time, Burke says she thinks the town made the right move holding a referendum.

“They definitely did do the right thing—if it would have went with a no vote, we would have all understood it was not something the community wanted, so I am very glad that they took the steps to make sure everybody was on board,” she says.

For those who are not on board, Langley says he hopes that changes.

“There might be some people with hurt feelings now, but in the long run, we’ll have functions in that hall, and they will be there, and they will hopefully be thinking this was a good idea,” he says.

“Once they see it up and operating, I think it’s going to be different.”