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Residents vote for street improvements, whether they like it or not

Con Lattin didn't vote for sewer, water and road improvements on the street where he has his business. But according to the city, he did.

Con Lattin didn’t vote for sewer, water and road improvements on the street where he has his business.

But according to the city, he did.

Black Street residents packed city hall Monday evening frustrated by a voting system that cast a majority of them in favour of a project many didn’t want in the first place.

On city books, 36 of 50 possible Black Street homeowners between 4th and 8th avenues voted for local improvement charges on their street.

In reality, 31 of those homeowners didn’t vote.

With the city’s mailout ballot system, homeowners who don’t send in a ballot for a local improvement charge automatically approve the project.

“It bothers me this assumption that people who don’t vote have voted in favour (of the project),” said Lattin at Monday evening’s meeting.

“It’s like a banana republic. I strongly object to that method.”

Lattin owns two homes on Black Street where he runs his business, Whiskey Flat Investments.

Paying for the local improvement charges, which are based on each home’s assessed frontage, would set him back $25,000.

Homeowners have 15 years to pay the city back, but with a 6.5 per cent interest rate tacked onto the cost, it can get expensive, said resident Phil McLean.

He was one of 14 people who actually voted against the project.

“It’s going to be a big headache and expense,” he said.

The city wants to upgrade the sewer and water system as well as repave the road, build a boulevard and sidewalk and install new lighting and trees on the street.

Many residents agree that sewer and water upgrades are needed and that a repaved road would be a bonus.

But few want boulevards, sidewalks or additional lighting near their homes.

Black Street residents Sue Langevin and Roxanne Livingstone conducted a straw poll of 40 homeowners on their street.

More than three-quarters of those residents view boulevards, sidewalks and lighting as unnecessary improvements.

Many residents don’t want the added responsibility of shovelling sidewalks in winter.

And Langevin isn’t keen on watering a boulevard outside her home, which would be her responsibility under city bylaws. She likes the natural esthetic of gravel shoulders on either side of the roadway.

Langevin’s also concerned about parking.

Most residents on Black Street don’t have driveways and use the gravel areas in front of their homes to park.

Residents would have liked to see a choice as to which improvements they could pay for, she said.

The improvements shouldn’t have been presented as a total package.

“It’s one thing for the city to pay for the improvements themselves and decide which ones are made,” said Black Street resident Nathan Millar.

“But it’s another thing if residents are being forced to pay for improvements and don’t have a say into them.”

The city will be picking up the majority of the tab for improvements - $5.5 million - while residents will be responsible for raising another half million.

McLean wonders why he’s been nailed in the past with improvement charges for other neighbourhoods other than his own.

He has a tax bill from 1995 showing local improvement charges he had to pay for Riverdale and downtown.

Meanwhile, other residents are frustrated that they didn’t receive notice about a public hearing on the improvements set for mid-August.

Mailouts weren’t sent to any of the residents I spoke to, said Langevin.

The public hearing had to be rescheduled to this past Monday.

There were also instances of people sending in ballots to the city whose vote was never recorded.

The city is looking at reviewing its voting system for local improvement projects, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We’re going to follow up and see if other jurisdictions do (the vote) like that,” she said.

But the city won’t hold another vote with residents of Black Street.

“That’s our process now - it’s in the bylaw,” said Buckway.

The city is planning on having another meeting with residents to better explain the improvements to them, she said.

“I’m not saying the plan would change then,” she said. “But we’ll offer further explanation.”

Contact Vivian Belik at