Hall rejection leaves North Oyster firefighters in limbo

On Nov. 19, a proposal to borrow up to $3.03 million to replace North Oyster’s fire hall and build a second one was defeated 348-251.

There is no plan B to replace North Oyster’s decrepit fire hall anytime soon.

On Nov. 19, a proposal to borrow up to $3.03 million to replace North Oyster’s fire hall and build a second one at Coffin Point was defeated 348-251. This was the second rejection by local residents, as a proposal using the alternative approval process was defeated in 2008.

“I don’t see anything in the near future,” said Cowichan Valley Regional District Area H director Mary Marcotte. “It took a long time to get to where we were. All of it has to be passed through the CVRD board and the board has to be convinced of a positive answer.”

Marcotte said she interpreted the results as meaning the majority does not want to pay for a new fire hall, even though they know the current one needs to be replaced. She plans to discuss with CVRD staff about other options.

However, with fire hall and referendum fatigue now setting in the community, she won’t be rushing for a solution. Her biggest concern after the results came in was for the volunteer firefighters.

“It was devastating for them,” Marcotte explained. “There is going to be a morale problem.”

North Oyster fire chief Jason De Jong and his firefighters were disappointed with the results.

“There is a need for both,” De Jong said, explaining that he heard from voters who were against the cost of building two fire halls. “We have studies that say so and there is a huge service gap between the areas (North Oyster and Coffin Point).”

De Jong also heard voters rejected the referendum because of the taxation method. Instead of charging a tax based on assessment, property owners were going to be charged a $248.96 annual parcel tax over 20 years.

Nonetheless, the fire chief said the community remains stuck with a fire hall that does not meet any current building code or safety standards and has no space for training or amenities such as showers.

He said something still needs to be done, and inflation will just increase the price tag in the future.

“Doing nothing about the current building is really not an option,” De Jong added. “I am pretty sure this project will not get cheaper.”

Meanwhile, the final figure for the defeated North Oyster fire halls referendum is 348 to 251.

A review conducted by Cowichan Valley Regional District chief election officer Kathleen Harrison last Tuesday found eight of the 607 ballots cast were in violation of a section in the Local Government Act and had to be rejected.

“They were rejected because they were identifiable,” said Harrison, explaining chief election officers must preform a determination of election results before voting figures are finalized.

“I have to uphold this section of the act.”

Things likewriting yes or no in addition to, or instead of, just filling in the box on a ballot is grounds for rejection.  So are careless marks outside the circle, where voters mark their preference.

The figure released right after the Nov. 19 referendum was 354 to 253.

The cost of the referendum has not been determined yet, but is estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000.