The pending closure of Virden’s Scotiabank Branch and the implications for the town and surrounding area dominated the agenda during the regular Town of Virden Council meeting on Nov. 7.
In an email to Mayor Tina Williams, Kent McFarlane, District Vice-President for Manitoba West, confirmed that the financial institution plans to shutter its outlet at the corner of Seventh Ave. and Nelson St. as of March 14, 2024.
Williams said that while there is little recourse to reverse the decision, there is an opportunity for customers to have their say as the process unfolds.
“As far as Scotiabank is concerned, they’ve made their decision,” she said. “Clients can contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and ask for a public meeting. I would encourage people who are clients to call this number, 1-866-461-3222. Scotiabank can be told to hold a public meeting in town. If people want to have a public meeting, I think it comes down to how many people contact the consumer agency to get it. The more people that call, the better.”
During discussion on the matter, councillors voiced their concerns regarding the impact of Scotiabank’s decision on its local customer base, which includes seniors and small businesses, as well as on efforts to revitalize the downtown area, which has already seen several significant storefront improvements.
“Our concern is an empty building sitting at our main corner in town, when we’re trying to do revitalization,” Williams said. McFarlane advised her that its disposal will be handled by in-house real estate staff and that the Town will be kept in the loop regarding its future.
“The bank is not in the business of being a landlord, so the building is going to be sold,” Williams said. “We’d rather not see it sit empty for a long time.”
Coun. Lynette Grumpelt, a former Scotiabank employee, thought the possibility of a non-competition clause being imposed by the bank as a condition of sale is worrisome and could drive away any interested purchasers, leading to it being vacant for an extended period.
“I don’t want to see that building sitting empty because they put a whole bunch of stipulations on the sale, and then nobody wants to buy it,” she said. “It’s bad enough that they are leaving a hole in our downtown, but if we have to have a big building right in the middle that just sits empty because nobody wants it, it’s salt in the wound of something we’re already dealing with.”
Grumpelt highlighted the adverse effect of the decision on the local retail and service businesses as well as the employees, who may be re-deployed to other branches or offered severance while needing to obtain new employment, possibly outside the community.
“There’s a lot of small businesses in Virden that do business with Scotiabank,” she said. “It’s inconvenient. It’s a huge blow to our small business sector to lose this institution in town, and I think that’s the piece that we really need to focus on if we’re sending a letter [expressing opposition]. If they (staff) choose not to or cannot relocate within the bank, these are also citizens of our town that are moving because they no longer have a job. [This is] another piece to this puzzle that bigwigs don’t consider when they deal blows like this to small towns.”
Grumpelt stressed that the closure decision was not made at the grassroots level.
“I would just like to remind people that the staff at the branch here had nothing to do with the decision. I feel awful for them. When we’re all upset and angry and encouraging people to voice their concerns, I hope people are hopping over the branch and going directly to the higher-ups because they (local staff) were all blindsided as well.”
Williams said that the Scotiabank ATM located at Virden’s 7-Eleven store may be upgraded to a larger automated teller machine for routine transactions. Accounts will be transferred to the main branch on Rosser Avenue in Brandon.
Coun. Marc Savy called for a resolution of council “letting the public know that this is what’s happening and we are totally against it.
“We need to let people know that as a Council we are not pleased with this,” he said. “We’re one of the few towns in Manitoba with four financial institutions. We have seniors here in town. If you tell some of the seniors they have to go to 7-Eleven to do their banking, it’s not going to happen.”
VIRDEN & AREA HANDI-VAN
Savy, who is the Town’s representative on the Virden & Area Handi-Van Committee, reported on the status of the long-standing service for the mobility disabled. The committee is in the process of amending its constitution, which will see the chairperson serve for a two-year term. New members-at-large are currently being sought.
He reported that operations have become increasingly challenging, due in part to the need to fundraise. The province recommends that user fees comprise about 25 per cent of the total budget. They are presently at 29-30 per cent, however the goal is to bring them down to 25 per cent by generating additional revenue externally and requesting that the funding partners, which include the Town of Virden, increase their contributions. Savy stressed that the committee does not want to see user fees hiked to the point of being cost-prohibitive for the ridership.
“The government mandates that we have a handi-van for 40 hours per week,” Savy said. “We have to pay a driver for 40 hours. A driver might work 24 hours. On the weekends the driver gets overtime, regardless of trips.” The committee has found that recruiting drivers has become more difficult and paying them, as opposed to having them volunteer their services, has added to overall operational costs.
During the discussion, Coun. Tara Maxwell asked if lobbying for an increase in the provincial support grant should be pursued.
A fundraising target has not yet been set.
ORGANIZATION OF COUNCIL
Representation on municipal and quasi-municipal boards and committees has been put in place for the second year of council’s mandate. A new citizen-at-large appointee, Jennifer Abel, has been appointed to Border Regional Library Board. Coun. Savy will continue as deputy mayor.
Council approved the revenue and expense statements for the general fund and utility operating fund for the period ending Aug. 31, 2023.
A motion was passed appointing MNP as the Town’s auditor for the 2023 financial year.
During the Association of Manitoba Municipalities Fall Convention, which will run from Nov. 28 - 30 in Brandon, councillors will meet with Municipal and Northern Relations Minister Ian Bushie to discuss the municipal airport expansion project. A session will also be arranged with Minister of Justice Matt Wiebe, regarding the closure of Virden Court Office.
Council authorized administration to enter into a service agreement with Manitoba Hydro for the relocation of existing electrical infrastructure and the installation of additional service where required at Virden Municipal Airport. The work, which will cost $24,357.39 taxes included, is needed to accommodate the expansion project and the moving of airplane hangars.
Approval was given for the construction of an additional 1,000 square metres of taxiway at the Virden Municipal Airport by Sparks Sand and Gravel Ltd. at a cost of $13.25 per square metre plus applicable taxes.
Information will be distributed to local groups and organizations regarding a call for nominations for the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Leadership Awards. The awards recognize Manitobans for their exceptional contributions to their community through leadership in volunteer service. Nominations are due by Jan. 15, 2024.
The Town will purchase new water meters, at a cost of $594,358 including applicable taxes, from Wolseley Canada Inc. for the upgrade program. Installation will be done by Town utility staff and an outside contractor. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Rhonda Stewart reported that a portion of the cost will be funded through gas tax revenue and the Manitoba Water Services Board.
A motion was passed authorizing any interested members of council to attend a community economic development training session being held at Tundra Oil & Gas Place, Jan. 18 and 19, 2024 at a cost of $50 per day. Council received an introductory letter from Hon. Ian Bushie, minister of municipal and northern affairs, who was sworn-in to the cabinet of Premier Wab Kinew on Oct. 18.
Council granted an extension to Royal Le Page – Martin-Liberty Realty for completion of storefront improvements to their building on Seventh Avenue with funding from the Town’s grant program. The revised deadline, Dec. 31, 2023, is due to the delayed delivery of new windows.
CAO Stewart updated council regarding efforts by Town utility staff and contractors to repair a leak in the water tower over the past week. She reported that the building beneath the tower sustained damage as a result of falling ice.
Council authorized an extension to the employment contract of CAO Rhonda Stewart.