B.C. land sales reached election target

Finance Minister Mike de Jong releases details of two-year surplus land sale that helped him balance two provincial budgets

The B.C. government has released details of its pre-election property sales, showing it came out with more money overall than appraisals or B.C. Assessment Authority values forecast.

Opposition critics called for the disclosure after obtaining government memos that showed a rush to make the deadline for the 2013-14 fiscal year, where the B.C. Liberals campaigned on a balanced budget tabled before the 2013 election.

NDP critics highlighted property in Coquitlam that sold for millions less than an appraiser estimated it would get.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the 14 Burke Mountain properties are an “outlier” in the dozens of land sales that closed during the finance ministry’s budget-balancing program. Later appraisals by the City of Coquitlam identified steeper terrain and streams with protective setbacks that limited their development, decreasing their market value by 20 per cent overall.

Wesbild, the buyer of the Burke Mountain properties, said it paid fair market value.

Development property south of the B.C. legislature beat its appraisal by $13 million, selling for $34 million to help the government meet a $350 million target to end the fiscal year.

A former hospital site in Surrey was sold for $20.5 million, $3 million less than its B.C. Assessment Authority value for property tax purposes. Finance ministry records showed the sale price was midway between two appraisals, one commissioned by the government and the other by the buyer.

De Jong said surplus Crown property is sold every year, with about 1,500 properties disposed of in the last 30 years. They will continue, but there won’t be another identified program in future budgets now that post-recession deficits have ended, he said.

NDP finance critic Carole James said there was an obvious rush to meet ministry targets for asset sales, and some could continue to be sold below market value without the public knowing.

Many of the surplus properties are school sites, and there are other transactions with municipalities.