Water­front Trust taxes $325,000 be­hind

On­go­ing is­sue with arms-length agency deep in ar­rears due to un­paid rent, le­gal fees, says board mem­ber Farr

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NATALIE PADDON

THE HAMILTON WATER­FRONT Trust owes the city hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in back taxes.

The arms-length agency — whose man­date is help­ing Hamil­to­ni­ans con­nect with their water­front — has un­paid ar­rears of $325,000 from 2016 and 2017, city tax di­rec­tor Maria Di Santo con­firmed Tues­day.

The money owed stems from two prop­er­ties — $280,000 for 57 Dis­cov­ery Dr., the home of water­front restau­rant Sar­coa; and $45,000 for 17-47 Dis­cov­ery Dr., which in­cludes Wil­liams Fresh Café.

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s prop­erty in­quiry tool, 2017 taxes for 57 Dis­cov­ery Dr. are $176,790; and $20,670 for 17-147 Dis­cov­ery Dr.

In May 2017, the trust owed an ad­di­tional $164,665 in taxes and in­ter­est on 57 Dis­cov­ery Dr. from 2015. That was paid by July, ac­cord­ing to a tax cer­tifi­cate.

HWT ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Werner Plessl de­clined com­ment and re­ferred all ques­tions to board mem­ber and Ward 2 Coun. Ja­son Farr, who said the board di­rected a tax pay­ment be made of about $175,000 about six weeks ago.

“This wouldn’t even be an is­sue if cer­tain peo­ple paid their rent,” he said Tues­day.

He said the board is try­ing to man­age its pri­or­i­ties, which in­clude le­gal fees, main­tain­ing their ser­vices and pay­ing taxes.

“We are not ig­nor­ing any of them,” he said.

“As a re­spon­si­ble coun­cil­lor and board mem­ber, I feel we are liv­ing up to our fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Farr said.

The trust has racked up “many, many thou­sands of dol­lars” in “un­ac­counted for” le­gal fees, Farr said.

HWT has been locked in a $15mil­lion le­gal bat­tle that water­front eatery Sar­coa launched against the trust and the city in late 2015 for pre­vent­ing it from throw­ing pa­tio par­ties with am­pli­fied mu­sic.

The trust be­gan its life with a $6.3-mil­lion en­dow­ment to set­tle a law­suit by the City of Hamilton that con­tended it hadn’t been prop­erly com­pen­sated by the for­mer Hamilton Har­bour Com­mis­sion for its share of port profits dat­ing back decades.

How­ever, that seed money has run out and the trust’s rev­enues now come from cap­i­tal project fund­ing from other lev­els of govern­ment and sales from the var­i­ous busi­nesses that the trust op­er­ates around the west­ern end of the har­bourfront.

In the past, the trust has strug­gled to stay out of the red.

As the Spec­ta­tor re­ported in 2015, HWT lost money for seven years straight, about $2.5 mil­lion from 2007 to 2014.

Coun­cil­lors signed off on a staffrec­om­mended $137,500 bailout of the arms-length agency for 2015.

Coun. Tom Jack­son, who is also a HWT board mem­ber, said at the time the one-time grant ad­dressed “an im­me­di­ate need” for the trust, which runs tour boats, a rink, water­front trail trol­ley and leases prop­erty to har­bour busi­nesses such as Wil­liams Fresh Café and the Sar­coa restau­rant. Only the rink op­er­a­tion re­ceives an­nual city fund­ing.

The water­front trust re­cently ter­mi­nated Sar­coa’s 20-year sub­lease for al­legedly breach­ing con­di­tions and not pay­ing rent.

Sar­coa co-owner Sam De­stro has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Werner Plessl, the trust’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, re­ferred ques­tions to board mem­ber and Ward 2 Coun. Ja­son Farr.

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