The headline reads:
Fort Erie on Verge of Major Industrial Land Purchase
Huh? Why is the Town of Fort Erie purchasing a parcel of land that belongs to foreign-based race track owner Nordic El-Ad? It is unused industrial land near the race track. Although it has been described as not being part of the new deal to keep the horse track going for at least another year, it makes one wonder why the town is purchasing the land.
Of course, the whole deal is cloaked in secrecy by closed meetings with the GM of Fort Erie's Economic and Tourism Development Corporation and head of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, Jim Thibert. The latest closed session was concluded on Monday, April 14, 2014, with council directing staff to bring forward a by-law for purchase of the property.
Again, it is being stressed that the purchase of the property from El-Ad "does not concern the 117 year-old racing facilities or the stables which are currently leased from Nordic by the FELRC." (From the Niagara This Week article)
I have to give props to James Culic for his coverage of the story. He makes a point to draw the connections between Thibert, Mayor Martin and David Kompson, a local developer who is representing the still un-named party who is rumoured to be interested in purchasing the race track. Seems that Kompson is a good friend of the two as well as a campaign donor to Martin's 2010 election campaign. I believe that these connections may play a big role in the town's desire to purchase the property. As warned by Ward 5 Councillor Don Lubberts, such actions can be interpreted as bonusing.
Here is what has been said about bonusing:
"This restriction is set out in section 106 of the Municipal Act and states:Despite any Act, a municipality shall not assist directly or indirectly any manufacturing business or other industrial or commercial enterprise through the granting of bonuses for that purpose.Section 106(2) defines the specific activities that municipalities may not conduct. The prohibited activities include:(a) Giving or lending any property of the municipality, including money;(b) Guaranteeing borrowing;(c) Leasing or selling any property of the municipality at below fair market value; or(d) Giving a total or partial exemption from any levy, charge or fee.The restriction on municipal bonusing was implemented in 1962. The prohibition on the ability of municipalities to grant bonuses to industrial or commercial enterprises was caused by municipalities placing themselves in dire financial circumstances resulting from excessive assistance and tax relief to certain companies. It is reasonable to state that as a general rule the public is opposed to municipal bonuses for private businesses. Public opinion is that municipal spending of taxpayer dollars should be utilized towards public services and improvements to the municipality and should not be used to bonus private interests."
So I will ask again: What is going on here? Why is the cash-strapped town that just gave $500,000. to the race track to keep it afloat for another year, now buying a piece of industrial property from the race track owner?
And what benefit will this purchase be for the taxpayers of Fort Erie?
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