Township of Langley Residents are sadly denied their just benefit from Municipal land sales …… It is still the Wild Wild West – and it continues – Why? Who is benefitting?

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

When I decided to come out of political retirement for the 2008 election and ran for Mayor I did so only after seeing and hearing issue after issue which were, in short, just plain wrong. At the center of many of those issues that concerned us was the issue over land deals to friends and insiders, the Dixon Pit property was the best example. This Post is not to rehash that disaster but that disaster is very instructive when looking into the Township of Langley’s insecure future in land deals that will so negatively affect Township residents! Question – Should it not be the general public / taxpayers of the Township of Langley that benefit?

Remember the following excerpt from a private conversation I had with Rich Coleman from an earlier BLOG Post –

Rich Coleman: And you have been making noises about some land deals, and I want you to know we are OK with them.

Rick Green: Well we are not, it is bull shit and it is going to stop.

NOTE – I still want to know who the WE are.

First, a little pre-amble – I was born in the City of Vancouver and have lived in Vancouver, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Delta and the Township of Langley during my close to 67 wonderful years. I have a passion for the lower mainland and its quality of life and liveability. So, after hearing of the passing of Art Phillips recently, I was reminiscing about his relatively short tenure as Mayor in the City of Vancouver; but remembering his remarkable legacy. One has to be impressed. Two keys to that legacy 1) The prohibition of freeways through the City of Vancouver and 2) The creation of the “Property Endowment Trust and Trust Fund”. What he saw back in those years is exactly what is going on out here today. He established control and transformed Vancouver’s approx. $50 million asset of owned properties about 30 years ago into an asset value today of over $2 Billion.  Within this approx. 30 year period Vancouver City received close to $300 million into general revenue (to offset tax revenue) from the Property Endowment Trust Fund.

So Fast Forward to the Township of Langley – How does that affect us? Pre the 2008 Municipal Election Campaign the Dixon Pit Property sale became a hot topic of conversation as I stated above. That issue coupled with what I had heard from a few inside sources, specifically that the Township of Langley had a considerable property portfolio amounting to some $500 million caused me to seek out the detail of the Vancouver Trust. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the track record of Township of Langley property management (lack of) and see the opportunity to introduce a “Property Endowment Trust and Trust Fund” into the Township TO BENEFIT taxpayers going forward. It was a major plank in my 2008 election platform coupled with a three year 0% tax increase paid for by the benefits of the Endowment Trust. Well you would have thought it was a good idea, but given the culture that exists in the Township, I found out NOT SO MUCH after being elected! After a number of meetings, discussions, and work-shops there was no interest. Interesting?

The existing property management process in Township Owned Property?  – There is a long standing process dealing with property purchases, property sales and land swaps being decided behind closed doors. Today is no different. In my experience, senior staff makes the decisions and come to council for a rubber stamp of approval no matter how archane. Council members are NOT in the habit of questioning the decisions of senior staff.

FACT – Property purchases and decisions on which properties to sell must be held in camera under the terms of the Community Charter which makes abundant sense. What isn’t required to be in-camera is the public process of selling. That should be very public to maximize the return for the taxpayer. (Unlike that which happened in the Dixon Pit advertising and sale)

Unfortunately the internal process and decision making that is in place for property sales can lead to the potential for abuse, putting at risk the opportunity to achieve current market price or re-zoned market price potential on Township property. There are three issues to be concerned about for the protection of our public assets 1) The process of decision making to sell or to buy a piece of property 2) The price a given piece of property is sold, swapped or purchased for. (All properties should be appraised through an independent third party appraisal) and 3) the lack of co-ordination between planning and our property division which loses the benefit of potential zoning improvements to achieve an increased value for the taxpayer owned asset.

Important Note: No – While some will suggest that this is the start of an election process I can assure you it is not. This idea was proposed by me in 2008 and 2011 election. The bad news (but not surprising given the culture that exists) it was readily denied by members of Council. If it wasn’t so sad it would be humorous – The last challenge I had from Charlie Fox on this issue was “Mayor Green, give us a business plan”. Now Councillor Fox, you heard directly from Bruce Maitland on a number of occasions who very successfully managed Vancouver’s plan for 20+ years. Vancouver’s plan was created by Art Phillips who established one of the most successful investment firms in the country “Phillips, Hager and North, now a subsidiary of RBC Financial”. OH and by the way Charlie, we wanted to create a value added transparent internal process not open up a supermarket.

My proposal? – NOT SUCCESSFUL – Establishing a “Township of Langley Property Endowment Trust” – Establish control of the process of purchasing, selling and swapping property owned and/or being bought (with council approval) by the Township. Management of the “Township of Langley Property Endowment Trust and Trust Fund” would be through a Board of Directors or Select Standing Committee consisting of the Mayor, Administrator, Director of Finance and two Council members of the Mayor’s Standing Committee of Finance (who would be voting members) plus the Director of the Property Division (non-voting). Before a property is put up for sale all zoning and planning issues would be reviewed with the Township Planning Department with a view to look at the potential for improving the zoning to increase the market price potential if possible. If it is decided to sell the property it would be marketed extensively through a very open and public process to Real Estate Agents, Land Developers (Commissionable) and to anyone who might have an interest in the property through Community Charter regulations for advertising. It IS NOT about selling all of our property assets, it is about enhancing our portfolio value through sale, purchase and rental properties. The decision to ultimately approve a sale would be that of council after a briefing from staff as to the planning impact of the sale.

My proposal? – NOT SUCCESSFUL – Establish a “Township of Langley Property Endowment Trust Fund”Funding of this Trust Fund will be through a process where the Current Assessed Value of the property sold (pre up-zoning) would go into General Revenue, while the additional revenue over and above the original assessed value would go into the Township Property Trust Fund. This fund, under specific rules of its founding, commits all revenue, principle and interest to be used to help offset future tax increases.

My proposal – SUCCESSFUL – A Permanent Public Accounting of all Township Owned Properties – During the 2008 campaign, despite numerous attempts to obtain a detailed list of Township owned properties we were unsuccessful. We were told that they did not have a consolidated inventory list. After the election I requested this inventory from the CAO and had about five binders delivered to my office within a couple of weeks. There is now a detailed inventory available to the public in the Township Real Estate Department. (Or there should be)

In Summary – You do have to wonder what else is going on when you receive a reception like this on an idea that has been proven very successful in Vancouver, is transparent, protects council’s rights of final decision and offers an extensive number of benefits to the taxpayers of the Township of Langley. In the 2008 election I was publicly challenged by Kurt Alberts in an all candidates meeting in Fort Langley that I was going to sell Fire Halls and Community Centers. In the 2011 election we were similarly criticized. Isn’t it interesting how many Township property sales we have seen since the 2011 election, including the attempts to sell the Glenn Valley Forest? Taxpayers should be very concerned.

Elected members of Council owe it to their taxpayers that they are and will do their level best in service to their community. It is about service to the community at large, not special favors for friends and insiders which has been the practice in the Township of Langley by some for decades.

RG

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I am working on a few posts at present that I believe should be of significant concern leading up to the provincial election connecting the dots municipally. – Not Healthy!

Protect your Democratic Rights – Protect your NEIGHBORS Democratic Rights – stay informed, stay involved and VOTE!!!

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