Letter: Proposed parkland is not ‘free’

Tuesday, February 21 2017

One of the biggest myths surrounding the Potlach proposal is the notion that the proposed parkland will be free.  Not only will it not be free, it will be expensive.  Per a 07/07/2016 comment from our RDN representative, Howard Houle, the gift will trigger a tax increase of approximately $80,000 per year.  That cost will be borne, forever, by current and future Gabriola taxpayers.

If about 20 people per day use the new parkland, that works out about $10 every time someone uses the new park. Walks in the park won’t be cheap.

More importantly, the long term carrying cost of this “gift” will be large. The $80, 000 annual cost will increase with inflation.  That means, for example, that the 50-year cost of the park will be $4,000,000 in today’s dollars.   

Just to give a sense of how expensive parkland might be relative to other alternatives, I note that I could use the taxes to purchase and cover the carrying costs on a $1.2 million tract of land (the approximate assessed value of the donor lands).  Assuming a 4.6% mortgage, a 2.0% inflation rate, and a $15,000 annual carrying cost (increasing with inflation), the land would be paid off in 25 years.  Annual savings thereafter, in today’s dollars, would be $65,000.  And, if I were a nice person, I could give GALTT a covenant to cross my lands.   Of course, with appropriate OCP amendments and  if “I” were some kind of community trust, the land would be protected forever.   Seems much cheaper than the  current proposal.  

So, do Gabriolans agree that the new parkland is worth $80,000 per year, especially when cheaper alternatives might be available that provide similar benefits?  The tax savings could be used for other projects.

Or, are there alternative projects more deserving of our tax money?  Should the money be spent at all?  

So far there is no agreement amongst islanders.   I see entrenched positions, stifled discussion, controversial water reports, controversial approval processes, and an increasingly split community.  Yet, the proposal moves closer to approval, even as disagreements intensify. There is a sense that of urgency in the air.

What I do know is that if the Potlach development does go ahead, it must be in a form of which Gabriolans will be proud.  The development must not harm any island resident.  To this end, even more work must be done to resolve the water controversy.  The approval processes must be demonstrably fair to all, abiding by the spirit as well as the letter of the regulations. 

To achieve these goals, the community must finally develop a business plan.   What does it want to achieve with its tax dollars?  It should develop a list of completing projects and variations of the current proposal (fewer lots?, wilderness trust rather than park?,  designate the proposed parkland near the medical center for seniors housing?, purchase other wilderness land? ).  Be proactive, not reactive.  With a plan in place, the Trustees will finally be able to bargain from a position of strength, rather than weakness.  They will be in a much better position to decide on the best way forward.

My sense is that it is in the island’s best interest to delay any Potlach approval until the community has developed and fully considered some alternative ways of spending (or saving) its money.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

~ Art Warburton