A petition against a proposal to turn over Rimbey’s town offices to the local library for an expansion project has been tossed out.
Enough names were gathered on the petition to meet Municipal Government Act requirements. However, a legal review determined the question asked on the petition didn’t pass muster.
“The question lacked clarity,” said Rimbey chief administrative officer Tony Goode. “It wasn’t a simple yes or no question.”
The petition called for the sale of town offices to be delayed and referendum held on the library question in the October municipal election.
Local residents, led by 90-year-old resident Reuben Giebelhaus, gathered 437 names, of which nearly 400 were considered valid.
About 250 names were required had the question been legally binding.
Council’s next step is unclear.
The issue will be discussed at Monday’s council meeting, but whether a decision will be made on the library expansion remains up in the air.
It had been proposed that the town sell its offices for a token $1 to the library, which the town partially supports to the tune of $86,000 a year.
In turn, the town would lease space in the nearby Provincial Building for $30,000 a year as part of a 10-year lease.
Goode said it would only cost about $62,000 to convert the provincial offices into the space needed for the municipality because the province would cover much of the bill.
“Our cost is to put in some counter space, remove a wall and put one office up, and the actual moving out of here.”
Lease costs are roughly the same as current maintenance costs so the impact on the town would be minimal.
Giebelhaus disagrees that his petition was inadequate, suggesting it was based on one legal opinion and another lawyer may have had a different interpretation.
Binding or not, the petition sent a clear message, he said.
“Absolutely, there’s no getting away from it.”
He points out that the library’s board, noting local concerns about the cost of relocating the town offices, offered to scrap the $1 deal.
Instead, the library would lease the space.
But since libraries are funded either through government grants or donations, leasing doesn’t mean any savings for taxpayers, he argues.
“In a roundabout way, we’re still paying for it.”
Giebelhaus said the most cost-effective solution would be to expand the library by building an addition, rather than give away the taxpayer-funded municipal offices for a song and then paying lease costs.