Friday, May 04, 2012

Point Hope Shipyards Lands

Ralmax, the operator of the Point Hope Shipyard, is offering to buy the land the shipyard is located on and one more lot they have an option on for $17,000,000.  Does this make sense for the city?

Two Victoria City Councilors are holding a public forum on this next Wednesday at the Fairfield Community Centre at 7 pm.   I would go it I could, but I have Scouts that night.
The four lots in question outlined in red
My first issue with the City owning the land relates to the property taxes.

What I do not know about the land is what is being done about the property taxes for the land at the moment.   The City does not pay property taxes to itself and it is the land owner.    If the company is willing to pay $17,000,000 for ownership of the land and has spent $17,000,000 in improvements, the value of the whole property is likely around $40,000,000 when land and improvements are all counted.   At $40,000,000, when I do the math, the property taxes collected for the City to use comes to just over $1,000,000 a year.    There would be another $400,000 paid in taxes for other levels of government or agencies.

Even if one were to only apply tax the value of the land and nothing else, that would bring in about $460,000 in property taxes to the City, but these four lots have improvements on them and this increases the assessed value of the land.

According to what is on Ben Isitt's website, the lease will pay $250,000 per year and rise to $750,000 in 2016.   I look at these numbers and they do not seem to reflect the value of the property taxes on the land.   I have to be clear here, I do not know the assessed value of the properties or what may or may not have happened with respect to property taxes.

It seems to me that the City can sell the land and still end up with at least as much money as they will be getting in 2016 from the lease.   The City also gets $17,000,000 in capital.

I have a second issue with continued ownership of the land.  

The City of Victoria is a government and not a business.   When the City becomes a landlord it ends up having to think about the land as a the owner and not as the government.   The for profit aspect of owning the lands will colour the decisions of the council when it comes to governing the land.

In my work with First Nations one of the biggest problems I have seen is the lack of separation between governing the land and making money off of the land.   I have seen too many First Nations lose way too much money because the two roles were conflated.

As long as worries about making money underlay the decision making around the land in the future, the City will make decisions that are likely not in the best interest of the City as a whole or work out best for the finances of the City.   Profit should never be a driving motive in governance decisions but can never be removed if you own the land.

Third, the liability for the City.

As long as the City is the owner of the land it also assume the liability for the land.   Many industrial lands carry a lot of costs with them because of past environmental damage to the soils.   One only needs to look at the BC Hydro Rock Bay property that has been under remediation since the 1980s, though for many years very little happened.  Still, the costs to BC Hydro of fixing that site has been huge.

If there is a huge environmental cost it will ultimately the City that has to deal with it as owner of the land.   If the cost of any environmental problem is too high, the company leasing the lots could simply declare bankruptcy and leave everything back on the City.  
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