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Vacant and derelict building hearing draws little interest

Taking care of town business
Town of Virden Civic bldg
The Civic building, where Virden's town office, court room /council chambers is located.

At their Sept. 6 regular meeting, the Town of Virden Council held a public hearing to gather feedback and respond to questions from the public regarding its Vacant and Derelict Buildings By-Law. However, it drew little interest. 

Chief Administrative Officer Rhonda Stewart advised that a hearing was required as part of the implementation process to communicate with ratepayers, since remedial action could result in the Town taking title to a residential property. The Town's legal counsel, Jennifer Hanson of Thompson Dorfman Sweatman in Winnipeg, joined in remotely and fielded questions from Councillors regarding several desired amendments before a motion was passed giving the by-law third reading.    
Citing an example where a home was erroneously demolished before the mortgage was cleared, Hanson stressed the importance of giving sufficient notice before dealing with any given situation, often on a case-by-case basis.    

“Just because we are passing it doesn't mean we're going to be implementing it tomorrow and every day on every property,” she said. She told Councillors that a little co-operation can go a long way.  “There's notices in here that (Development Officer) Cory (Nixon) can use to get people's attention, and hopefully get the ball rolling on some of these,” she said. “However, if Cory is halfway through and the property owner starts working with us, we can stop the enforcement from proceeding.” 

In terms of amendments, Coun. Travis Penner asked that the types of waterproof wall finishes allowed not be limited to a defined list and include others acceptable to the designated officer, due to the potential for specific products to become obsolete over time. Penner also requested that plywood not be the sole material permitted for the boarding up of vacant buildings. He suggested that others, such as metal cladding, would also serve the purpose. In response to a question from Mayor Murray Wright, Hanson advised that the Town would have the authority to enter a property and replace any such barriers which may, for whatever reason, be knocked down. Penner asked how the Town would recoup its enforcement costs, while protecting a prospective buyer from being saddled with an outstanding lien. Hanson clarified that any costs incurred would be added to the taxes of the affected property. 
Coun. Karel Munchinsky feared that the impact of the by-law could end up worsening the plight of the marginalized. “We have no one here to see what's going on,” he said. “They don't show up because it doesn't affect them today, but in a year it might and by then it's too late. By the time you add all these costs you're going to take someone that may be in a hard place and you're going to make them homeless.”

“This is vacant and derelict,” Hanson said. “Our intent is not to take people's homes away.” Nonetheless, he expressed concern over its long-term impact on the fabric of the community. “We could end up having a whole bunch of holes in our town,” he said. “We've got a hole right downtown and we can't sell it...we can't do anything with it.”

Hanson said the objective is not to “tear down every house,” but to give the municipality the ability to address problems brought on by vacant and derelict buildings, such as rodent infestations. She said such properties often have little value, with assessment not even placing a number on them, leaving few alternatives. "Take it all down and leave it as vacant land, or board it up so it's secure,” she said.  

Council voted to renew the Town’s membership in the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) for the coming year at a cost of $3,675.

Council reviewed and accepted the revenue and expense statements for the Utility and General Operating Fund, as presented by Chief Financial Officer Anna Maksymchuk, for the period ending July 31, 2022. During the discussion, Coun. Travis Penner noted that since the new water source was commissioned in 2021, the operating costs at the treatment facility have dropped substantially. Penner said the decrease is forecast to be approximately $150,000 to the end of this year.

The NAERIC Barrels of Cash Foal Sale and Keystone Select Ranch and Arena Horse Sale will be held at the Virden Fairgrounds on Sept. 23 and 24. Council agreed to a request from Jack Auction Group that they be designated as a community event for liquor licensing purposes in order to permit beer gardens.  

Council accepted the tender from Accurate HD Ltd. of New Bothwell for the extension of municipal water and sewer services from the Scotsmun Steel/Nut House property on Fifth Avenue North across the Trans-Canada Highway to Heritage Equipment. The works will also provide for future business expansion in the area. During the discussion, Coun. Tina Williams explained that the original quotation of $616,733, which includes a $50,000 contingency, will be reduced by removing the casements under Fifth Avenue as well as hydrant and property servicing on the south side of the highway. The work will now cost $505,433 including GST. Coun. Travis Penner abstained from voting on the discussion due to a perceived conflict and not being in attendance at the committee meeting when the decision was made.

Council plans to write to the Manitoba Electoral Boundaries Commission to express concerns regarding its federal counterpart’s proposal to move Virden from the Brandon-Souris Constituency to Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa. Coun. Travis Penner asked that the letter emphasize that the bulk of the province’s petroleum industry activity lies within Brandon-Souris, making the area somewhat unique with different challenges and opportunities.

The Town of Virden will be a platinum ($500) sponsor of the inaugural Black Gold Classic, a heifer calf and bred heifer jackpot taking place at the Virden agricultural grounds on Oct. 1. The objective is to provide producers with an opportunity to showcase their livestock ahead of fall shows like Manitoba Ag Ex in Brandon and Canadian Western Agribition in Regina.

During the committee reports, Chief Administrative Officer Rhonda Stewart advised that the replacement of the bridge on Seventh Avenue North over Scallion Creek has now proceeded to tender, with a closing date of Sept. 27.  

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