News

Cook joins call for borrowing bylaw referendum

New Westminster school trustee Casey Cook has joined the chorus calling for the city to hold a referendum on its $59 million borrowing bylaw.

Cook said the city's decision to authorize the borrowing to help facilitate the building of an office complex in conjunction with the Downtown civic centre currently under construction was too important to be done without going to the public for its approval. He is also worried the city taking such a risk could affect projects the school district is involved with.

"I'm concerned as a school trustee this will jeopardize funding for the Massey and the replacement of the Massey and also for the high school," said Cook, who denied his stance is political. "Regardless of your political stripe, this is a philosophical, financial issue not a political one … My support in signing [the alternative approval process form] is not because I am opposed. You simply should not engage in an enterprise that profound without having absolute public debate on the issue."

Cook said opposition to authorizing the borrowing without a referendum crosses political lines, noting the two councillors who opposed the city going it alone on the office tower, Chuck Puchmayr and Betty McIntosh, represent two vastly different parts of the political spectrum.

"You're talking chalk and cheese here. This is hardly political," said Cook.

Although council has passed a bylaw authorizing the city to borrow up to $59 million for several projects while paying for the office tower out of reserves, a referendum on the issue could be forced if more than 10 per cent of eligible voters from the 2011 civic election, which works out to 4,528, sign a form calling for the city to have a vote on it by Aug. 7.

Cook said he and his wife signed the form and dropped them off to former mayoral candidate James Crosty, who is leading a campaign to collect enough signatures. Crosty convinced Cook, who said he has had doubts from the start on the propriety of the city's decision, to lend his support publicly to the concept of forcing a referendum.

"I don't think the city is equipped to assess risk, manage risk, and to handle risk," said Cook. "It's too big of an issue to go without getting public approval."

The city decided to finance the eight-storey, $33 million tower after its partner, Uptown Property Group, pulled out late last year. Council members who supported the bylaw said the city should eventually be able to sell the building because it will be Class A office space located next to a SkyTrain station.

"I would like to know who is assessing the need on this when a company such as Uptown is saying this is not for us," said Cook. "I have concerns about the economy and the requirement for A space. I just think when your financial thinking gets muddled up in your political thinking disastrous things take place."

In a news release, Crosty said Cook's support should help the cause because he accumulated 5,351 votes in 2011, the third highest in the trustee election. (Crosty received 3,139 in his bid to unseat Mayor Wayne Wright.)

"Mr. Cook has enough voter support to add significantly to the number of signed forms the campaign has collected to date," said the release.

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