While Champlain Township councillors are not unsympathetic to the losses suffered by High Street and other business owners during the recent High Street construction and prolonged closure of the intersection at High Street and Highway 34, they say they cannot provide direct compensation to business owners. What it will do, according to a resolution approved by council, is install signage and use other means to “promote the support of those businesses by the community during road construction.”
A letter sent to Champlain Township outlining the hardships suffered by businesses as a result of recent construction and the closure of High Street asked the township to cancel water bills for the period from September 23 to November 26, 2018; the letter said this corresponded to the period during which businesses were without potable water.
“As a minimum, we feel the township should cancel these bills as a small gesture in appreciation of our understanding,” says the letter, signed by Sheila Clelland of Jan Holland Professional Corporation, Paul Emile Duval of 6273335 Canada Inc., Chris Williams of Blueberry Hill Bistro and Nick Gouskos of Nicko’s Resto Bar. The Creating Centre is listed at the end of the letter but there is no signature alongside that business name.
In the letter, Clelland points out that the closure resulted in a significant decrease in business for several taxpayers and further, resulted in increased operating costs.
Access to businesses was limited and hazardous: business owners
“Access to the businesses was limited and hazardous at best, debit or credit card facilities were disrupted and there was no potable water (and sometimes no water at all).”
“The taxpayers were without telephone, interac and internet twice (once for three days, once for over one day), businesses had frozen temporary water lines that meant no washroom or dishwashing facilities until the lines were thawed and one taxpayer had raw sewage in their basement.”
While the letter acknowledges that the township did not have direct control over the project, seeing as how work was being done on a provincial road, Clelland said that it was business owners’ feeling, “that there remains a responsibility of oversight of the Township to the taxpayers to expedite the work performed inside its boundaries and to facilitate the solution to problems. With two notable exceptions (Mayor Gary Barton and his secretary), we had no obvious support from the Township and were told to fend for ourselves.”
Champlain Township Public Works Superintendent James McMahon was asked about frozen water lines by council. He said there were a few connections which froze but that those were “more residential.”
The mayor said it would be “opening a can of worms” to compensate some but not others affected by the construction.
“It’s a delicate situation. It’s like your hair; you have to mess up your hair before you make it look good,” said Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel.
Vankleek Hill ward councillor Peter Barton said that he has met with business owners and was interested in the guidance of council.
A slippery slope
“I think this council is interested in supporting small business. I know it’s a slippery slope, but I look at these small businesses differently. Ultimately, these small businesses suffered losses. I do know Bell lines were cut multiple times and that was not our fault,” said Barton.
Barton said that it might be the case that service-type businesses did not suffer the same degree of loss when compared to businesses which rely on walk-in trade.
Barton said one business owner told him business had been down by 75 per cent and added that the two restaurants suffered about the same reduction in business.
“Other businesses on the corner, like Pink Bow Tie — were extremely difficult to access, although they did say that the workers were helpful,” Barton said.
Riopel acknowledged the inconvenience of the situation but was reticent about the water bill discounts.
“Nicko’s Resto Bar was served extra water by the township at no extra cost,” Riopel said.
“This is like asking the rest of Main Street and residents to fork out to these businesses. It’s not fair to the other businesses to ask them to pay the bill,” argued Riopel.
Barton replied that he felt the letter was asking for a gesture from the township and that it was not so much about the water but about the reduced accessibility to these businesses during an approximate 10-week period when the street was closed to vehicle traffic and was difficult for pedestrians to access.
“How many businesses are we talking about here?,” asked L’Orignal ward councillor André Roy.
West Hawkesbury ward councillor Sarah Bigelow asked about what would happen next year when construction starts again. (Repaving, sidewalk work and some excavation will take place in 2019 to complete the water, sewer and High Street improvements which were not completed as planned in 2018.)
“Are we talking about seven businesses?” asked Roy.
Some discussion ensued. Barton said there were property owners where at least two businesses were located in the same building.
West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gerry Miner said he was sympathetic and described a similar experience when he owned and operated a business in Hawkesbury several years ago.
“We had a seasonal business that did most of its business during the summer and the town worked on the water on our street from April to November. My business was shot. If we were going to compensate businesses, we would have to put it in the budget to compensate. The fact is, we can’t be putting the potential loss of business in the (project) budget. That said, I do sympathize,” said Miner.
Bigelow said that signage would have helped.
“We had nothing saying that businesses were still open,” Bigelow noted.
“Can we instruct staff to find out how much money is involved?” asked Riopel. “If we pay out, we have to collect from someone else,” Riopel added.
Champlain Township CAO Paula Knudsen reminded council that if there was a (water bill) reimbursement, it would come from the water and sewage budget — or from the system users — not from all township taxpayers.
“I recommend we not do this. It’s not damages. We were not negligent. For sure, some suffered but there are laws against bonusing,” said Knudsen.
“I have a lot of sympathy for the residents,” Barton said, referring to the lengthy construction project. Barton said it would be terrible if businesses shut down.
“But I think it is an excellent idea to do signage for the next time to indicate that the businesses are still open. I have seen in another municipality that they aggressively put up signage,” Barton said, meaning that during construction, the municipality put extra effort into promoting the businesses in the affected area.
Barton suggested sending a letter acknowledging the request of the business owners to indicate that the township was looking for a way to help them and he added that the township should likewise communicate with the other affected businesses.
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