“I knew the construction work around town was all for good,” says Station House Restaurant owner Jarek Kotlewski, “I was not worried at the time about the disruption to my business, as I could see the benefit to the community.”
But Kotlewski says his attitude has recently changed, “It has been over a year that my business has been interfered with. I was happy about the improvements and I was willing to accept the disruption because I feel the community will be better for the improvements. But when I ask something from the District they tell me “no”.”
The ‘no” that he received from the District of Barriere came as a result of the business owner requesting to have late fees of approximately $80 waived from his utility bill.
He says that the endless construction and two day closure of his restaurant due to the water being turned off to facilitate infrastructure construction, greatly impacted his business and cash flow.
As a result his business took a financial hit which Kotlewski says he is still recovering from, and which put him behind by 30 days on being able to pay his bills, at which time he did not pay the late fees on the utility bill. District staff then advised him that to have the late fees waived he must send a request to council, which he did on Dec. 14, 2014 requesting the utility bill late fees be waived as compensation for the prolonged construction underway around his restaurant.
Council considered the request at their Jan. 5, 2015 council meeting, and advised him via a letter that the request had been voted on and was declined. The letter, signed by Chief Administrative Officer Colleen Hannigan expressed council’s regret and stated “….. although the District understands the inconvenience your business and its patrons have endured as a result of the infrastructure work around your property, the municipality will not be waiving late fees nor is it in the position to be able to offer monetary compensation to all property owners affected by roadwork and other town improvements. Progress by means of infrastructure work, especially those that affect the roads we all travel, is always a frustrating endeavour to tolerate. However, as with the pain of any “renovation”, the end result is usually a benefit for all. On the brighter side, the District has also heard positive feedback from the multiple contractors employed with this project, who have consistently patronized your business during the construction…”
After receiving this notification the restaurant owner once again approached council, this time in person at the Feb. 2, regular council meeting.
“I wanted to ask them what their reasons were for voting “no” to my original request,” said Kotlewski, “Councilor Sabyan works for me so could not vote, Councillor Fennell voted “yes”, and the others all voted “no”. But when I asked them on Feb. 2, councillors Kibble and Stamer were not there so there was only Mayor Smith, and councillors Paula and Fortin to answer me. I asked each one personally why they voted against me? But none gave me an answer, instead they relied on Colleen to do it for them. She said to waive the fees for me would mean they would have to do it for everyone, and that legislation prevented them from doing this. To which I asked, “What is wrong with helping everyone?”
Kotlewski says aside from the two days of restaurant closure due to no water, his front parking lot was also shut down for at least two weeks during the summer because of recurring construction and excavations.
“I told them – “You guys are power tripping here”, said the business owner. “Does council think business sleeps on money? I don’t have the money in the bank – I have to make it from servicing my customers. If I can’t service my customers I don’t make any money.
“They say they don’t want to set a precedent by agreeing to my request, but if legislature says you can’t do it, then why did they hold a vote about my request in the first place?
“They are dealing with a live business owner here who is suffering for their actions. They could have said “yes” and forgot the $80 late fee, and I would have been satisfied, but they voted “no” and then couldn’t even personally give me an answer as to their reasons. Now I am waiting for the next council meeting to address the council members who were not in attendance and ask them why they also voted “no”?”
The Star/Journal asked District CAO Colleen Hannigan about the decision to turn down Kotlewski’s request; “Unfortunately this type of construction does create difficulties, but the end result will be better for everyone,” said the CAO, “There is lots of empathy from council, but council has to make their decisions, and stand by their decisions. To give him back his late fee is starting a precedent.”
She noted council had previously been asked by another Barriere business, Timeless Treasures, who wanted compensation for disruptive business due to infrastructure construction during the Christmas holiday season of 2013. This request was also turned down by council. As a result, the Barriere and District Chamber of Commerce then refunded him the fees that had been paid to participate as a business in the Chamber’s 2013 Passport to Holiday Shopping promotion.
“Legislation sees fees as one of the fees that council cannot waive. You can’t give a benefit to one business over another,” reasoned the CAO.
District of Barriere Mayor Virginia Smith told this reporter, “We are bound by the Community Charter which is very clear that these fees may not be waived as it is a direct benefit to a business.”
Kotlewski says he is no longer willing to sit back and accept this disruption to his business. “I know there is more people like me that have suffered through this construction. My parking lot was good before, now the lot looks like hell with cracks and holes everywhere. I would like to get others who’s property is damaged and needs to be fixed to contact me. If more people who are affected by this come together as a group rather than individually, it will be easier to negotiate for reasonable compensation.”
Kotlewski is now inviting individuals and business owners impacted by the infrastructure construction to contact him by calling the restaurant and asking for him at 250-672-0002 .
“They took my money away by endless construction and closing my business for two days, they have wrecked my parking lot, and yet they were not willing to waive just $80,” stated Kotlewski, “This is just bad will.”