B.C. town says Olympic pavilion under budget, but keeps higher tally hidden

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TOFINO, B.C. — A small Vancouver Island town may have overspent its budget to promote itself during the Vancouver Winter Olympics and may have spent far more than officials have publicly disclosed.

The District of Tofino released a final budget to a local resident under freedom of information laws that said the town spent about $2,600 during the Games on a pavilion in an area of Richmond known as the O Zone after expenses and revenues were taken into account. That put the cost well below the original estimate of $10,000.

But records obtained by Westcoaster.ca included another, unreleased version of the budget that instead put the figure at $14,782, with the district’s director of financial services raising concerns about the lower figures when they were prepared for release.

“Upon closer review of the O Zone expenses and revenues released in the FOI request, some items have been incorrectly reported,” Jennifer Robb, who resigned within days of outlining her concerns, wrote in an email to the town’s deputy clerk. “I would like to correct the document before it is released.”

It appears those corrections didn’t happen, and the budget with the lower total was sent to Tofino resident Ralph Tieleman.

The primary difference between the two documents is the inclusion of wages for district staff: the unreleased budget includes $6,662 for wages, while the document that was made public omits this cost.

“(I) can’t really explain that other than district staff volunteered their time,” Bob Long, Tofino’s chief administrative officer, said in an interview.

“One is correct and that is the one that went out.”

Long, who said he did the “bulk of the work” on the document released to Tieleman, declined to comment about whether Robb’s resignation was related to her concerns over the budget.

When asked whether he was paid for working during the Olympics, Long replied: “I get paid on an annual salary and I volunteered my time.”

The issue is similar to questions the B.C. government faced about its decision to allow paid civil servants to work for Olympic organizers. The province allowed about 200 government employees to work for the Olympics while still collecting their paycheques.

When the program was announced last year, the Opposition NDP estimated those wages would equal about $25 million, but cabinet minister Mary McNeil argued the staff shouldn’t be seen as an added taxpayer expense.

In Tofino, the document sent to Tieleman also shows higher advertising revenues and donations than the version that wasn’t sent out.

It also included a GST rebate as an added revenue source that was absent in the other version.

Tieleman said he filed the freedom of information request because was concerned the pavilion went over budget.

He said he’s filed several more requests in the past week, as well as a complaint with the district.

“I feel there was some information lacking in the FOI that I was provided,” he said. “The main question I have is why did the treasurer not prepare the Freedom of Information request that was of a financial nature?”

According to the document released to Tieleman, the pavilion brought in $56,461.70 revenue but cost $59,078.32 in expenses.

However, the unreleased document obtained by Westcoaster.ca says the pavilion brought in revenue of $50,958.70 but cost $65,740.72 in expenses, including $6,662 in district wages.

(Westcoaster.ca)

Organizations: O Zone

Geographic location: TOFINO, Vancouver Island, Richmond

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