"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday 7 February 2008

Alice in LaLaLand

The town has property for sale on Leslie Street. It was purchased for the Recreation Complex seven or eight years ago. It cost $4.6 million. In the last year of the last term, staff were directed to do the necessary to sell the land, in house, by an auction process. The land has sensitive features and a site plan had to be developed to show the buildable sites. The exact size, shape and location of the parcel had to be meticulously described, an essential factor to determine an appraisal to use against potential bids.

The task was completed and ready for the new council to hit the ground running. They had no such inclination. For almost a year they argued and wrangled. First it was about whether or not it should be sold or kept for speculation. The public were not in on that discussion - it was held behind closed doors. Eventually, weeks later, it was determined the Town's best interest was to sell the property for development which would restore Capital Reserve Funds and provide jobs and assessment.

Then the argument was about how it should be sold. Staff advice was disregarded and a decision was made to retain a Real Estate Brokerage. Their commission would substantially reduce the proceeds but that was no deterrent to our feisty and remarkable new council which was never at any time in need of advice from staff.

Several more weeks were spent choosing the right firm and creating a contract. Documentation and a plan of how to sell the land.was generated by the company. The sale process has been underway for months. February 15th is the closing date for bids. The final step in the dance is almost complete.

But hold on there, not so fast, on Tuesday, February 5th, ten days before the close of bids, a report was tabled to Council in Committee from the Citizen's Advisory Committee of Leisure Services. They had previously received a report from a Citizen Subcommittee of the Leisure Services Advisory Committee recommending that twelve metres of land on two side of the property should be retained for a trail system. The Leisure Services Advisory Committee agreed. They recommended the action to Council in Committee.

Councillor Gaertner, a committee member, stated “It's a good thing we thought about it in time to make it a condition of the sale.”

We have a legal contract with a real estate brokerage company. They have promoted on our behalf at our cost a meticulously described parcel of land, divided into buildable lot sizes and setting out sensitive areas which are not for building.

Potential purchasers have picked up specs which describes exactly what is being offered for sale and to prepare their bids. Now, on the eve of opening bids, it is proposed we change the configuration of the land and the lot sizes. Or alternatively, encourage the sale as previously described and hit the buyers after the fact, they will have paid for land the municipality intends to require for public purposes, namely a fifty-feet wide trail system.

The sale and development will bring new assessment dollars, produce employment, both necessary to keep our economy stable and infinitely preferable to on-going tax increases and help replenish our plundered capital reserve accounts.

The price paid for the land will be multiplied many times in the sale. We already turned down an offer for a parcel at the appraised value with the potential for eight hundred highly paid jobs to contribute to our economy. I have the documentation to prove it.

Had we followed through on the work done by the previous council in this matter, the funds from this sale would have long been realised and tucked away in the reserve accounts from whence they were taken in the first place. There may well have been buildings already constructed, assessment flowing and new jobs for residents of the town.

But alas and alack ... things just don't happen that way in La La Land.

The money to pay for the Burnett Farm where the new recreation centre is built came from the following sources:

$1,750,000 - from Cash taken in Lieu of Parks reserve account.

$1,100,000. from Development Charges. That's money taken from builders when permits are issued.

$525,000 - Municipal Capital Reserves also called Tax Free Stabilization Fund. Taken from previous year end surpluses from taxes.

$2,100,000 - Taken from the Water and Sewer Fund. That's money collected with water and sewer bills for maintenance of water and sewer infrastructure.

When the debentures were issued for the building the cost of the land was not included. The reserve funds were never paid back. That's what I mean when I say the reserve funds were looted.

The Leslie Street land which we are now re-selling was purchased in the year 2000. There appears to be no record of which reserve funds were raided to pay for it. In effect, when it is sold we will not have surplus funds. We will simply be replacing funds previously robbed from reserve accounts, money which could conceivable have been used to pay for capital projects which were in fact charged to the levy (annual taxes).

Staff do as they are directed by their political masters. Who is watching? I wasn't there at the time.

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