A motion to ask staff to gather information about the state of the Cache Creek pool, and hold a public meeting on the topic before March 15, was defeated at the Cache Creek council meeting on March 1.
Despite numerous questions from the public and press asking when such a meeting could be held, the repeated answer was that council must first hold meetings to discuss this year’s budget, and no potential date was set.
Coun. Wendy Coomber, who made the motion, noted that council had promised a public meeting “some time ago” to explain the village’s financial situation and answer questions. Included in the agenda at her request were minutes from the council meeting of Aug. 19, 2019 noting that Mayor Santo Talarico said that “the public must be consulted in the process” and that there would be a “public consultation process on how to keep the public engaged in making the town appealing and what the public would like to see if the pool has to be closed.”
In answer to a question from a member of the public about how difficult would it be to get information for the public about how much money is needed to keep the pool open, Talarico had replied in 2019 that the information would be prepared “prior to the public meeting in the fall [of 2019]”, and that this would include detailed expenditures as well as projected repair costs.
At the meeting on March 1, Coomber urged council to move ahead with the meeting before the end of March. She noted that despite COVID-19 restrictions, other bodies have successfully and safely held public meetings: “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” She continued that there would never be a perfect time for a meeting but said that it was now two years later and time to take action. “A promise is a promise.”
She asked that staff be directed to gather the information needed for a public meeting about the future of the pool, and that mayor and council present that information and answer questions at a meeting on or before March 15.
Coun. Sue Peters said that while she agreed with the idea of a meeting, she did not think there would be enough time to arrange one before March 15. Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martini agreed, noting that it is an extremely busy time for staff, with budget, the annual audit, reports, and projects that need to be finalized taking up considerable time.
Peters also mentioned the possibility of having an independent assessment of the pool made. She said that she had learned of funding that could be accessed to cover the cost of such an assessment, which would be approximately $7,500, not the $20,000 to $25,000 that Chief Administrative Officer Martin Dalsin had mentioned at the council meeting on Feb. 15.
“That would be money well spent, and allay concerns of transparency and lack of communication,” she said. “I think an independent assessor would give us a better ground to start from.”
Coomber replied that the village already had the information necessary for a public meeting.
“We have the information. We’ve talked about it. It’s been two years. We can delay and delay and delay some more, but it’s just a public meeting to present the facts as we know them and the money situation and to answer questions.”
Martini said that two weeks to prepare for a meeting was not a reasonable time frame, noting that the budget needed to be finalized first before a decision about a meeting was made. Coun. Annette Pittman said that she felt Coomber’s point in asking for a public meeting was “How do we make those decisions at our budget meeting without input.”
Talarico said he has asked the CFO to gather information, check with public works to see what is needed to get the pool operational, and check with Interior Health about doing a primary assessment on the facility. He also noted that a report was done in 2016 to itemize things that were needed or needed attention or should be tested. “We have started the ball moving in that direction.
“The critical portion is that we have to know where we stand on our budget, this year especially, before we enter into a meeting with the public so we can give them those figures. We’re trying to get this rolling. We understand the concerns of people out there. They want to see a pool. So do we. But reality is reality. We do not know what the percentage of property tax increase is going to be. Until we have those figures I can’t support [a meeting]. To enter into a dialogue right at this moment, without the facts, doesn’t make sense to me.”
Coomber said that if it was moved beyond March, “We’re going to lose the window, if there was a ever a hope of opening it this year.”
Pittman mentioned the possibility of applying for grants for this season, but Martini said that even if grants were applied for, they were unlikely to get an answer in time for the summer. Coomber mentioned the unexpected COVID-19 Safe Restart grant funding of $461,000 that the village received in November 2020, but Talarico said the criteria of the grant did not allow the funds to be used to operate a pool.
Pittman said it all came back to what are the problems and costs with the pool. “These are concerns that have been going on for quite some time, well before COVID, and we’re still sitting here waiting for that information.”
Coomber was asked to repeat her motion, which stated the March 15 deadline for a public meeting. Coun. Lisa Dafoe asked if she would consider a friendly amendment to defer the meeting until after the budget is completed. Coomber indicated no, and the vote was called. Talarico, Dafoe, and Peters voted against the motion, with Coomber and Pittman in favour, so it was defeated.
There was a robust public question session at the end of the meeting, with most of the questions pertaining to the pool. Someone who had purchased a home in Cache Creek to be near the pool asked why information about the pool had not been made available to purchasers, saying they would not have bought in Cache Creek had they known. Talarico replied that if they had used a realtor, that realtor should have told them.
Someone asked if Talarico had been hired in previous years to fix things at the pool. He replied that he had been a contractor before becoming mayor, but since being elected he no long does work, or consults, on the pool. When it was clarified that the question referred to work done on the pool in 2017 and 2018, before he was elected, Talarico said he was the contractor who fixed some of the issues at the pool, but not all of them.
When asked when the budget would be done, Talarico replied that council would discuss dates later. Peters clarified that budgets have to be filed with the provincial government by May 15. The Journal also noted the May 15 budget deadline, and asked if — given that deadline — there was a chance of a public meeting before that date, or would residents have to wait. Talarico replied that he thought that question had been cleared up earlier.
Asked why grants to keep the pool operating were not applied for in 2019, Talarico replied that in 2019 the village received an additional $103,000 in federal gas tax funding and chose to keep the pool operational in that year. “We had funding that year because of the extra money.” Martini clarified later that gas tax funds cannot be used for operations; they can only be used for tangible capital assets.
Asked if the $50,000 the village recently took from the landfill legacy fund to help establish a Community Foundation could have been used toward the pool instead, Talarico said the answer was yes.
One person asked what the village was considering for healthy recreation opportunities for the residents of Cache Creek if there was no money in the budget to open the pool this year. Talarico said that was something for council to discuss at the budget level. “Once we have all those answers, budget-wise, we can start deciding what we can do by using the COVID-19 fund. That’s one option.”
Another person noted that the lifeguards at the pool are mostly students, and that keeping their qualifications current costs hundreds of dollars per year. “Should these students go ahead and pay this money to re-certify their tickets? Is there any hope of the pool opening this year? I’m sure council would not want students to suffer a financial loss waiting because of council’s indecision.”
Talarico said that if students chose to re-qualify that would be an asset to them, but he could not make that decision for them.
The final question from the public was “At this moment in time, is there any hope of the pool opening this summer?” The reply was that that question had been asked and answered.
The last comment went to Peters, who said “We all want to get this information out. There is no desire to not get it out. We just want to make sure we have all of our information correct and ready to give the best answers that we can.”