Legal ruling looms on hostile take over of the city
The Corporation of Hamilton supports Government plans to revitalise North East Hamilton, but officials in the municipality caution that the plans need to be adequately financed if they are to bear fruit.
The comment from Dwayne Caines, chief executive officer of the City of Hamilton, in interviews reviewing the Corporation’s performance in 2021.
The City is fighting two critical court battles which could decide its fate in 2022.
A Privy Council decision which could pave the way for the Government to take control of the municipality is looming, while a New York court is hearing arguments which could leave the City with an $18 million bill over a previous administration’s failed Par-la-Ville development.
Despite that, the City emphasised its sound financial management of the municipality through the Covid-19 pandemic.
While other public bodies including the Government have taken on debt and been forced to reduce services, the City has maintained a surplus and paid off all debt in the same period
Asked what he thought of the July announcement for the Draft North East Hamilton Local Plan 2021, Mr Caines said: “I think it's very ambitious. I will leave it there.”
But he continued: “I will go on the front foot and say that anything that adds vibrancy to that environment, which historically has been economically disadvantaged, I'm for it.
“But I am also an advocate, a proponent, of making sure that when you do something, you have the money to complete it.
“And also you do not put yourself in a position where you promise something you cannot deliver.
“So, we are cautiously optimistic, and we look at the Government as a partner. But we believe there's a level of accountability by being prudent; as well as being fiscally responsible and not setting people up for failure.
“Always position yourself for success by being aware of what your finances are, and what you can do with the resources that you have at your disposal.”
Fiscal responsibility is very much on the minds of city officials.
A recent year in review press release restated the Corporation of Hamilton’s “sound fiscal management”.
The corporation’s Chief Financial Officer Tanya Iris said the biggest hit to city revenue was car parking, as total revenue fell some $2.8 million.
She said: “In 2020, we had about $22.6 million in revenue. That was actually down from 2019, when we had $25.4 million in revenue.
“The bulk of our revenue actually comes from property taxes ($8 million), wharfage ($6 million) and car parking ($3 million).
“Our parking fees actually dropped significantly in 2020 because of Covid. We had a big drop there. We had to cut out some expenses, so that we could maintain a balanced budget.”
Austerity measures included cancelled events and capital projects and also affected the 114 city employees, who took a four month pay cut.
Lockdowns and home working requirements meant streets that would normally be teeming with office workers and shoppers have been empty and this has had an impact on revenue as well, Mr Caines said, albeit to a smaller degree. He said the City provided some tax relief to help where it could.
He said: “The restaurants we believe had a good option in the alfresco dining. Not everyone is ‘front facing’ where they could have taken advantage of that, but it was a small example of us coming up with a creative solution, to those stuck at the time there were restrictions on in-person dining.”
Ms Iris said: “Last year March, when we realised businesses would be strapped for cash, the city came up with a rent relief programme. We also gave them a break on whatever rent they were paying us for alfresco dining.
“We give 50 per cent relief to a building if it is vacant. As far as the number of buildings that are vacant, yes, that is a bit of a concern for us. But we will try our best to make sure the city remains vibrant to help drive business there.”
The second legal matter is the legacy dispute involving Mexican Infrastructure and finance.
Mr Caines said: “That is a very complicated matter. It has had several incarnations of itself.
“We were successful locally. We went to the UK, the Privy Council, and we were successful in that jurisdiction.
“It has now moved to New York, a court in New York. And of course, there are significant nuances to that investigation, of which I don't think I would want to go into in that level of detail in this forum.
“But suffice to say, we have started a process and it is in the hands of lawyers we've employed both locally and abroad.”