The Silver Bay City Council voted 2-1 against a rent abatement request of roughly $71,000 from an organic food company based in the Mary MacDonald Business Center at a special council meeting on Monday, Feb. 24.
Mayor Scott Johnson and councilor Carlene Perfetto voted against approving a new rental agreement with the company, which was contingent upon rent abatement for the rest of 2020.
"I don’t want to see employees hurt," Johnson said. "But I see the potential that we’re going to give them free rent and the new company, not Chris [Toal, owner of Wildly Organic], will move and we just got taken for $70,000. I will not be voting in favor of the motion. I wish I wasn’t. That's what I’ve got."
"That's what I've got too," Perfetto said.
Wilderness Products, also known as Wildly Organic, is an organic food company which has been based in the city-owned Mary MacDonald building since Chris Toal purchased the business in 2015. The business employs 15 people and takes up approximately 42% of the leasable space in the building.
Toal said he requested the abatement on behalf of a group of investors who were poised to invest in the company and buy back its assets from the National Bank of Commerce. The bank was set to foreclose on the company. The investments would be part of a settlement with the bank.
The investors were willing to cover utilities for the time period, Toal said, but without the abatement, he wasn't sure what would happen next.
"I’d have to go back to the investors and understand what their intention would be then," Toal said. "It’s not my money nor my decision."
Councilor Shane Hoff was the single vote in favor of the abatement. He said he supported the measure because of the jobs the business supports.
"The number of jobs this company provides to our area is significant. In a small town, we don’t have many businesses like that, so I know it’s very important to the families who work there," Hoff said. "I’m not happy about it. It puts us in a terrible spot. We’ve done what we can to help you guys out, and it hasn’t worked out so far, but I also understand a lot of it is out of your control."
Councilor Richard DeRosier was not physically present at the meeting, but listened to the discussion and offered his opinion on the matter via phone. Because he wasn't physically present, he couldn't vote on the issue.
"If you simplify this down, if we were never having this conversation and the bank foreclosed on the business, we’d be out the $70,000 regardless," DeRosier said. "So we’re really not out anything by allowing them to stay and try to rejuvenate that business because we wouldn't have had it regardless."
Councilor Dustin Goutermont was not able to attend the meeting.
Johnson said it wasn't the city's responsibility.
"I sure don’t want this to play out that the city council is against the jobs," Johnson said. "We didn’t put ourselves in this position, and I don’t want this playing out that whatever happens to the business is the city’s fault."