By Stephen Hawboldt
After more than an hour of closed door deliberations Tuesday, Annapolis County councillors agreed to 90-day extension of the current lease arrangements with Graves ValuFoods in Cornwallis and created a negotiating team to reach a settlement that will ensure the continued operation of the grocery store. This action must be ratified by county council in its formal session next week.
Graves Value Foods is the anchor tenant in the county owned Basinview Place that also houses the Fundy YMCA. Cathy Graves told council that the family enterprise has been in operation since 1953 and have 41 staff in their two outlets in Bridgetown and Cornwallis. She said that the Cornwallis operation was established at the request of the municipality. She said it has taken three and a half years to build the business at Cornwallis.
For the first year the rent was $500 monthly and after negotiation, it was agreed that this level would continue. That changed earlier this fall when the municipality sought a five-fold jump. Since this increase made the business unsustainable, it was announced that the family enterprise would close. The closure would have caused the loss of 12 jobs. About 300 citizens told Council at a public meeting at the Clementsport Legion in mid-October that they wanted the store to continue operations.
Municipal governments are required by provincial legislation to charge fair market value when selling or leasing municipally owned properties. To determine market rent, the county retained a consultant who concluded that the rent should be between $8 and $10 per square foot per year. This resulted in the municipality seeking more than $2,500 monthly in rental.
Newly elected Councillor Gregory Hemming said that, “when the county gets into the business of leasing property, it gets really tricky.” He noted that other area businesses are struggling and are not being subsidized by county taxpayers. Alex Morrison, the newly elected councillor from the Cornwallis area, said that large turnout at the public meeting ment that the community wants and needs the store.
The motion passed by Committee of the Whole Council instructs the county’s chief administrative officer to enter into negotiations with Graves ValuFoods, “with a view to reaching a reasonable settlement that will ensure the continued operation of the store at Cornwallis.” While the motion does not specify a negotiating team, it was agreed that councillors Morrison and Hemming would assist the warden and CAO. Councillors are to be kept informed of progress.
These are only recommendation to county council and needs to be formally adopted at the regular session on November 21.