Gambling on future fiscal stability

District seems obsessed with Albion flats, pouring in staff time and money

Gambling on future fiscal stability

It seems clear that our town fathers, and mothers, are all high-stakes gamblers.

Whether it’s industrial or commercial proposals for the Albion Flats or buying up the now flattened neighbourhood eyesores east of municipal hall, council members seem ever willing to gamble taxpayer dollars on fiscally questionable projects.

In the case of the fairgrounds, over the past decade or so, council has approved untold amounts of staff time and funds in vain attempts to remove the flats from the agricultural land reserve.

The Agricultural Land Commission, the ruling provincial body, has repeatedly denied those applications, but council plunges heedlessly on.

The gamble involved is that, even after spending all that staff time and associated costs on the Albion Flats, council and staff seem almost oblivious to the potential impact of the Kwantlen development just to the east.

Once fully developed, the Kwantlen site will include an estimated 280,000 square feet of commercial space, making it significantly larger than Haney Place Mall.

Only a fool, or municipal hall occupant, would not recognize such a development as a serious threat to the viability of the Albion Flats proposal.

Municipal council and senior municipal staff seem willing to gamble the long-term future fiscal stability of Maple Ridge on such pie-in-the-sky stuff.

While fumbling about with the Albion Flats application, council has done little or nothing to support other applications to exclude lands from the agricultural land reserve. Some of those applications are far more fiscally viable and far less of a gamble than the municipality’s own pipe dreams.

Anything involving expanded industrial development in Maple Ridge is a huge gamble for private investors.

One need look no further than the former Kirkpatrick Sand and Gravel site northeast of Webster’s Corners.

The site has been cleared, fenced and subdivided for several years, but sits almost vacant.

The developer has millions of dollars invested and now has little to show for his efforts other than paying municipal taxes.

Had the municipality been willing to extend sanitary sewers to the site, chances are it would have attracted far greater interest than it does at present with each individual site encumbered by septic fields.

If nothing else, development of the former gravel pit exposes the inconsistency in municipal attitudes towards private industrial and commercial developers.

That inconsistency may have been one of the main reasons why private commercial development in the core has languished and resulted in the municipality buying the residential properties east of Haney Place Mall.

It seems no private investor was willing to gamble on what goofy plots might have been foisted on them by inept politicians and indifferent municipal staff.

And now the properties sit vacant, awaiting the results of a municipal fishing expedition into the development world.

Oddly enough, when it comes to real gambling such as casinos, Maple Ridge has shown no hesitancy in jumping on the slots parlor bandwagon.

On the surface, it appears that the advent of the slots parlor has been a fiscal winner for the municipality, with close to a million dollars in added revenue from the Bingoplex operation.

It is estimated that the new casino, set to open this fall at its Lougheed Highway location, will produce over a million dollars per year in addition to property taxes on the facility.

This is perhaps the biggest and most cynical gamble of all, as municipal council reaps the benefits of an activity that is seen by many as just another tax on the poor.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.