Powell River City Hall. (Supplied by the City of Powell River)
A Powell River resident is calling for more transparency from the city council.
Pat Martin spoke at council’s June 18th meeting about “the true cost of the Powell River-Sliammon-Catalyst Limited Partnership (PRSC)” and a request for council to initiate legislative amendments for public-private partnerships.
The PRSC Limited Partnership was formed in 2006 and took ownership of about 800 acres of land no longer needed by Catalyst Paper Corporation’s operations in Powell River.
“Catalyst wanted to stop paying property taxes on those lands, and Tla’amin (Sliammon) and the city had a number of development projects in mind for them, most of which were never realized,” Martin said.
The partnership dissolved in 2018.
“For 12 years the public was unable to access any information about PRSC because the Freedom of Information legislation doesn’t apply to cities’ public-private partnerships,” Martin said.
Martin said what happened with PRSC highlighted “what can go wrong” with public-private partnerships and “identified gaps in the current provincial legislation.”
“The city can’t undo what happened but they can learn from it and not repeat it,” she added.
“I believe the City lost a lot of money through its involvement with PRSC but the taxpayers will never know how much,” Martin said. “I’m hoping council uses the PRSC experience as a catalyst for positive change.”
She’s calling for changes to the current provincial legislation “in the interests of transparency and accountability.”
“I can think of no reason they wouldn’t support those changes and put forward resolutions to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.”
In her presentation, Martin said her intent “is to have something positive come of our City’s costly experience with the PRSC limited partnership.”
“In order to do that, I’d first like to share with you what I learned from examining PRSC’s finances and delving into the details of its 12-year history,” Martin added.
In summary, she said, audits weren’t done for PRSC’s last 10 years of operation, including when it dissolved.
Martin noted that only $223,000 of approximately $8.5 million in land sales revenue was audited over PRSC’s lifetime and the requisite annual audit waivers for the rest of the money were not done.
Martin said land sales to the general public amounted to less than $1 million and the remaining balance of about $7.5 million (close to 90 per cent of total land sales revenue) on the books at dissolution was from sales or distributions (property transfers where no money changed hands) to PRSC’s shareholders themselves.
“In simple terms, PRSC bought the lands from Catalyst, paid the taxes and expenses on them and later sold/distributed most of them back to their own shareholders for a higher price and then claimed a profit,” she said.
She believes public/private partnerships allow a lack of transparency and accountability.
“There were a lot of problems that happened with PRSC,” Martin said. “Those audits were not done for 10 years, and even when they dissolved and closed the company, they didn’t do an audit.”
Martin said this is a learning experience for the city “to make sure they don’t do it again.”