Mayor Greg Dionne has challenged the anonymous authors of a pamphlet questioning the appraised value of land the City of Prince Albert purchased for the new arenas and aquatics complex to come forward and debate him.
The group “Concerned Residents and Taxpayers of Prince Albert” issued the pamphlet earlier this week. In it, they released details from a Current Market Value Appraisal Report conducted on the land by assessors Brunsdon Lawrek, and Associates out of Saskatoon on Oct. 13.
That appraisal estimates the cost of the 18-acre property to be $3.5-million, which works out to more than $194,000/acre. City council voted to pay Signature Developments Corp. $6.5-million for the property during a regular council meeting on June 29. That works out to around $362,000/acre, an increase of $168,000/acre.
Dionne refused to discuss any of the questions the group raised in the pamphlet during an interview on Friday. Instead, he challenged the group to come forward publicly and debate him with the media present.
“I’m not going to rebut anything in that document, because without a name it’s a waste of paper,” Dionne said. “The only time I will rebut it to the media is if the person who wrote it is present, and then I will invite the media to join us.”
The pamphlet includes an email address PA residents could use to contact the group and obtain a full copy of the appraisal. However, the group later rescinded the offer after being told by Brunsdon Lawrek and Associates that they were not allowed to distribute the report. The group also told anyone who had already received a copy to delete them without sharing them.
Signature Developments paid $27,333/acre for the property when they purchased it in 2013, according to the pamphlet. Those numbers were confirmed in a copy of the assessment forwarded to the Prince Albert Daily Herald by a private citizen who is not affiliated with either Concerned Residents and Taxpayers or the Saskatoon firm that conducted the assessment.
The assessor from Brunsdon Lawrek and Associates who wrote the report declined to give on the record comments when contacted Friday afternoon. He instead pointed the Daily Herald towards the Appraisal Institute of Canada’s professional standards and code of conduct for an explanation. Representatives from Concerned Residents and Taxpayers did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Dionne called the allegations and questions raised in the pamphlet junk mail, and said he would continue to lay out a positive plan to improve Prince Albert during the campaign’s final week.
“I’ve challenged them to come out and identify themselves and debate me, and instead of coming out, and debating me, they’ve gone further underground,” Dionne said. “That tells me this pamphlet should be thrown in the garbage. It’s not even worth the paper it’s printed on. If you’re not willing to stand up and be counted, you shouldn’t be.”
Dionne called on other mayoral candidates to Concerned Residents and Taxpayers for their tactics and reveal who was behind the group. He also thanked Josh Morrow for being the only other mayoral candidate to support the new facility.
Morrow issued a press release on Thursday asking residents to stop the petty politics and work together to improve the community. He said the deal is already signed, and anyone who understood how contracts work would know the City could not back out of the deal.
Morrow also emphasized the positive aspects of the development, saying families would benefit from a new facility the City desperately needs.
“This is really breaking my heart, that we have a set of people who are trying to divide us,” he said during an interview on Friday. “They’re trying to create chaos over this land deal, and I think it needs to stop.
“We need to realize that land deal was done, it was completed, that it’s in the past and we need people to come together and just embrace one another moving forward. We can’t keep tripping over the past.”
However, Prince Albert’s two remaining mayoral candidates expressed sympathy and even admiration for the anonymous group behind the pamphlet.
Former Ward 7 representative and current mayoral candidate Dennis Nowoselsky was one of four councillors to vote against the land purchase back in June. On Friday, Nowoselsky reaffirmed his opposition to the project, and said whoever was behind the anonymous pamphlet deserved to be named Citizen of the Year.
“Democracy is alive and well,” he told the Daily Herald. “Obviously, there are some citizens that are paying attention at council and trying to raise their legitimate concerns—and I agree with them.”
Nowoselsky said Prince Albert residents should have received more time to review the land deal before council voted on it. He also argued the money could have been better used on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.
Despite his continued opposition to the project, Nowoselsky said it would be difficult to reverse course now.
“You’d like to take a look at it, but there’s already deposited monies on the land and it might be hard to get out of,” he said. “That’s the danger. That’s why things are pushed through so fast.”
Nowoselsky added that he didn’t know why the pamphlet authors chose to remain anonymous, but said some people may be afraid of retaliation, especially if they own a business.
Mayoral candidate Darryl Hickie also said the pamphlet raised a lot of important unanswered questions. However, he didn’t agree with how the information was released.
Hickie has been a frequent critic of the land sale since the start of his mayoral campaign. On Friday, he said council could have saved a lot of trouble by having an appraisal done before finalizing the purchase. He also criticized council for the lack of public consultation, which he said frustrated Prince Albert residents.
“As I’ve said in my platform, it’s all about having public accountability,” he said. “It’s all about consultation. For big infrastructure projects, we need to have the public’s input, and in this case, it was sorely lacking.”
However, Hickie added that he would prefer to have those concerns raised by someone on the public record, rather than by an anonymous group. He said elected officials are required to attach their names to their votes and policies, and something similar should have happened here.
“I wouldn’t have named people, but what’s done is done,” Hickie said. “I don’t agree with the tactic used. I understand that there were questions raised as a result of the appraisal as well that this group did, and having said that, it’s an issue now that has to be managed appropriately.”
Four councillors named in pamphlet respond to allegations
Mayor Greg Dionne wasn’t the only member of city council mentioned in the Concerned Residents and Taxpyers pamphlet.
Couns. Dennis Ogrodnick, Don Cody, Blake Edwards and Ted Zurakowski were also mentioned by name, with the anonymous authors wondering why those four councillors approved the purchase at such an inflated price.
All four councillors hit back at the accusations this week, calling on the group to step out into the public with their accusations and use their real names.
“I’m putting my name to my release. I’d like them to do the same,” Cody said on Friday. “After all, they have accused us, made allegations against us. In their Facebook (page) they say ‘collusion.’ Well, collusion is a very serious accusation. It’s a criminal code accusation, and to have that hanging over my head when I know for a fact I had nothing to gain in this thing, I think is absolutely terrible. If they want to debate that issue, they can come on right ahead.”
“You can’t reason with an anonymous person,” Ogrodnick added. “That’s what I want to say. I am really disappointed that these people did this, and that people who are running are silent on it because it didn’t affect them.
“We have a couple of people who said, ‘well, they had some valid points.’ There’s nothing valid about that pamphlet—nothing—without it being signed.”
Ogrodnick, Cody and Zurakowski all defended their decision to vote in favour of the land purchase during interviews on Friday.
Zurakowski said the consultation process took two years to complete, and he argued the price was fair considering the developers will have to pour millions into the property to make is accessible.
“Look at some of the infrastructure work. Look at the price of that Marquis Rd. West expansion that we’re (the City) doing. Pipes in the ground. Streets. Curbs. Gutters. Lights. That’s millions of dollars, and what we need to remind people of is the cost on the developer. It’s his responsibility to put the pipes in the ground—the curves, gutters, streets and lights. That’s all on him.”
Both Cody and Ogrodnick argued that the Signature Developments parcel was the best possible location for the new recreation facility. Cody said other sites, like the city-owned parcel near Saskatchewan Polytechnic, were too small to support future growth. Ogrodnick said it didn’t make sense to put an entertainment district near Sask. Poly, or near the Alfred Jenkins Field House. Those were the two main alternative locations up for consideration.
Blake Edwards did not return an email requesting comment on Friday. However, he issued a statement on his candidate Facebook page calling accusations of collusion between mayor and city councillors “disgusting.” He also defended his decision to vote in favour of the deal, saying other sites up for consideration would not have been able to generate the tax revenues needed to operate the new facility.
“We need positive in Prince Albert, and this project is certainly that,” he wrote. “I’m very proud to be one of the five votes that are moving this project forward. It’s very disappointing to me that one of the best things to happen to Prince Albert in five decades is being talked about so negatively because it’s election time.”
See Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Herald for more on this story.