High Street Businesses Request Compensation
After months of devastating losses, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) along with High Street business owners came to Executive Committee looking for answers, changes, as well as compensation for those impacted the hardest.
Speaking before the committee, Jennifer Henshaw, CFIB’s Senior Policy Analyst Prairie, detailed the effects the lengthy Phase Two Cast Iron Water Main has had on High Street West businesses.
“It’s a pretty clear picture of a construction project impacting businesses,” Henshaw said about High Street.
She detailed some of the major impacts on High Street businesses.
“You had one business without water and sewer for four months but they still got a bill,” she said.
Another business reported losses of $80,000 and had about a month left to go until they would likely close.
Another business lost 70 to 80 percent of sales and had to lay off all their entire staff.
“We’re asking not for every business but those impacted the most,” she said about compensation and mitigating the damages suffered.
Communication between the City and businesses was seemingly nonexistent.
“A lack of communication have left a lot of frustrated businesses,” she stated.
The CFIB would also like to see the City establish some sort of construction mitigation program.
“It’s a step in the right direction; implement a mitigation program,” she said, calling for businesses to be “fairly compensated” for their construction related losses.
“We would like to see a construction mitigation program so this never happens again,” Henshaw stated.
The CFIB called for a five point mitigation program to be instituted by the City.
The points wanted are:
- A compensation program where construction has moderate-to-major impact on a business for an extended period of time.
- A “no surprise” rule tracking infrastructure and letting businesses know well in advance about any construction.
- Mitigation provisions built into contracts with a bonus system for early and late completion of projects.
- A dedicated business liaison officer for all projects.
On May 2nd, the CFIB released a report entitled "Paving a Smooth Road: Helping Small Businesses Survive Infrastructure Work."
In their report to the committee, it was stated High Street’s lengthy repairs and condition impacted in what could be life or death situations.
“Delays impact our emergency response times and rides. (Our ambulances) are only as smooth as the ride. The solutions offered were not always compatible with the way in which we respond to emergencies,” the report stated.
Councillor Dawn Luhning said she had asked, at an in-camera Executive Meeting, if anything could be done for the businesses.
“I did ask our question at the meeting. Can we do something for the businesses that have had hardship,” Coun Luhning stated.
“What are we prepared to do for these businesses for the F storm that happened on High Street?” she said.
During discussion Henshaw asked “What has the City done? Has the City looked at utility or property tax deferrals?”
Mayor Frasier Tolmie said the City was taking action.
“We need to define reality. We made a motion to get the road done,” Mayor Tolmie stated, adding “it’s not just affecting businesses, it’s affecting the whole community.”
Henshaw said it was good to see moves to finish the project but “completing the road does not change the fact these business owners have seen their business dry up.”
She also said the CFIB was prepared to work with the City on the issue.
Michelle Power owns Fit4Life, she delivered a Power-Point Presentation about what happened on High Street. She detailed the effects on her business.
“I’m not here to say give me some money. Other businesses might have different views,” Power said.
“My main concern is the lack of communication,” she stated.
Power presented photographs documenting the progress on the project, including the correct valve arriving on October 25th for the project to proceed.
Losses to her business directly attributable to the construction included losing two full-time and one part-time tenant as well as $50,000 in business which she conservatively estimated did not walk in her door.
She also showed photographic evidence of compaction issues at three other construction sites in the city to demonstrate the problems.
Powers main concern was ensuring it did not happen again and the City got things right from now on.
City Engineer Josh Mickleborough stated that steps were being taken to prevent what happened on High Street from happening again.
“We do look at how to improve our process,” Mickleborough stated.
He acknowledged the communication problems adding “in the future we will provide better communication.”
“This project went as bad as you could have something go,” Mickelborough stated.
The committee was told SaskPower was out at the project first to ensure their work was completed with a number of wiring splices necessary where the contractor had cut their lines.
Today the City will be on-site to do “ground testing of compaction to show our opinion on compaction was correct.”
Councillor Brian Swanson said he attended the in-camera Executive Committee meeting and felt his fears he had then were more reinforced now.
“There was a litany of construction delays. Were any of these on part of the City?” Coun Swanson asked.
He spoke a confidential report and five issues it identified. He identified one of the five issues but further discussion was stopped due to potentially exposing the City’s legal case.
Coun Swanson said his fears were the City had opened themselves up to six figure legal bills.
“No one could have done that work from mid-November until now,” he said, adding “God could have had a paving company and couldn’t get that job done.”
As part of the response to the CFIB presentation, the Engineering Department prepared a report which stated that during the work there was a litany of documented delays, quality as well as safety issues.
Regarding compensation to business owners the report also stated “the letter from the CFIB also makes mention of a ‘municipal compensation program’. Legislation shields municipalities against a variety of claims involving the interruption of public services.”
In the end the CFIB request for a mitigation program and compensation was received and filed