Sullivan’s NPA council never had overall budget for Olympic spending

Unlike VANOC and even the Province of BC, the City of Vancouver never had an overall budget for its Olympic expenditures. That dispiriting conclusion, obvious from a close review of the city’s report on overall expenditures, was confirmed at council yesterday by City Manager Penny Ballem.

Nor, despite claims to the contrary from Councillor Suzanne Anton, is there evidence of a coherent budgetting process for individual Olympic projects, whether we’re discussing the Olympic Village or infrastructure like the Hillcrest curling centre, which was the subject of massive overruns the Park Board will be paying off for years.

As Ballem told council, projects were undertaken, designed and paid for, all in a single process. If costs rose, the bills were paid, often behind closed doors. Details were only released with the election of the Vision council in November 2008.

The latest and one of the largest bills to come due is the $32 million council is asked to approve Thursday to meet the very minimal commitments for affordable housing the NPA had incorporated in the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village.

The COPE Vision council had hoped to make at least one-third of the units subsidized, a middle range accessible at lower market rents and one-third at full market prices. Rolling back that commitment was literally the first order of business for the Sam Sullivan NPA council in November 2005. The new, reduced goal was 20 per cent affordable housing with half of that amount market rental.

Although Millennium paid the highest price ever paid for land in Vancouver up to that date, the NPA quickly allowed the entire project to go into the ditch. Overruns on the Salt Building and the Civic Centre amounted to tens of millions of dollars, but the worst mismanagement occurred on the affordable housing.

The preliminary budget there was $65 million but that soared to $95 million by the end of 2007 (approved in camera) and finally to $110 million. To achieve even the NPA’s vision of affordability will cost $32 million more.

The fateful December 2007 in camera meeting that quietly shovelled tens of millions of dollars into the Olympic Village program also directed the SEFC program manager to negotiate with BC Housing “with the expectation of recovery” of some of these funds.

However, this week’s report says, “it is noted that no agreement was ever negotiated with BC Housing.” Why bother? It seemed the NPA council never met an overrun it couldn’t approve.