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