Province paid 650% above assessed value for bypass land: Opposition

Rising traffic fatalities prompts P.E.I. highway safety division to take action

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition says taxpayers vastly overpaid for a 65-acre parcel of land purchased by government in order to build the new Cornwall bypass.

PC MLA Matthew MacKay described the parcel as an "empty field." He tabled government documents showing its assessed value as $125,300 for property tax purposes.

But he told the House on Wednesday government paid $823,000 for the land.

"According to the agreement signed by the minister, she paid $823,000 for this empty field," MacKay said, referring to Transportation Minister Paula Biggar.

"Minister, how did you pay 650 per cent above the assessed value of a 65-acre field?"

"Our policy is in place," Biggar responded. "We go out; we meet with the individuals that are going to be affected by the land purchases right across this province. We treat them fairly. We look at what the assessed values are and appraised values are, I should say – of those properties, and we have an independent appraisal of those properties."

After question period, Biggar told reporters the property in question, which is next to a residential subdivision, contains three different zonings, two of which are residential and the third agricultural.

Appraisal conducted by independent assessor

She said the purchase price was based on an appraisal from an independent assessor, who considered the three different zonings.

Biggar said it was the property owner who asked for and chose the individual assessor, and that government did not conduct its own internal appraisal of the property's value.

She said internal appraisals had been conducted of other properties to be purchased to build the bypass.

"When we start the negotiations, we put the option out there [for an independent assessor]," Biggar explained to reporters Wednesday. "If that's what the landowner wishes, we provide that rather than go through the process of having our staff do an internal appraisal and then go outside. It's up to the landowner if they wish to have that option."

Despite the lack of a government appraisal on the land in this sale, Biggar said she was "absolutely" confident government received the best deal for taxpayers.

Taxpayers bought something that doesn't exist: MacKay

"That's our first and foremost concentration on this area … to make sure that we, in terms of this particular project, are spending taxpayers' money in a fair and careful way."

But MacKay argued taxpayers paid for something that doesn't actually exist.

"They put a value on a property that could be," he said. "It could be used for something in the future and that's what was paid out. It wasn't paid [based on] the assessment now. Right now it's currently used as agricultural land, and they paid top dollar for something above agricultural land."