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Business committee concerned with future location of Community Services office

Downtown business owners are concerned the Community Services office could move out of the area.

The province has called for tenders for approximately 8,554 square feet to house Community Services’ Amherst office. The Downtown Business Advisory Committee wants town council to work with the province to make sure those jobs remain in the downtown.

AMHERST – Amherst’s Downtown Business Advisory Committee is again concerned for the future of nearly 50 jobs in the downtown business core.

The province has called for tenders for office space of approximately 8,554 square feet to house the Community Services Department’s local office. The building is presently located in the former Stenek building along with Service Canada.

“Our committee has heard from multiple business owners who are currently operating on the margin. It is now well understood that the loss of these customers would make it difficult or impossible for several of these local businesses, both large and small, to keep their doors open,” committee chairman Mark Casey said in a letter to Amherst town council. “Following the recent loss of NSCC and Access Nova Scotia, preventing the loss of these jobs downtown is our top priority and we believe it should also be yours.”

The tender closes on Sept. 19.

The committee first sounded the alarm last July when it was confirmed that leases for both Community Services and Service Canada were set to expire later in the year. There are approximately 47 jobs at Community Services and seven or eight employees at Service Canada, which shares the top floor of the building.

It’s not known if Service Canada is looking for space as well.

Casey said the business advisory committee understands the town’s reluctance last year to amend its land-use bylaw to restrict government offices to the downtown, but he said the committee is hoping the town will make its feelings known to the province.

“We understand that your role as elected officials is to represent all taxpayers in Amherst. In that context, it is imperative that you protect the tax base of the town so it remains viable for the long term. A large empty office building and potential domino effect of empty retail spaces would damage Amherst’s commercial tax base, which in turn results in less tax revenue that can be used to provide services to all of Amherst, not just the downtown,” Casey said in his letter.

In addition, Casey said, the committee believes it is sensible to back up the town’s significant investment of tax dollars in downtown infrastructure including sidewalks, streets, parks and crosswalks.

Mayor Robert Small said he wants the jobs to stay in Amherst first, but would prefer them to remain in the downtown.

“We’re going to encourage the minister and our local MLA to take that into consideration as part of the process and I know there are parties there who are interested,” the mayor said.

Cumberland North MLA Terry Farrell said he cannot show favourtism in the process, but understands the concerns being expressed by the committee. As a former lawyer, he is also aware that may of Community Services’ clientele live in the downtown area.

The MLA said he worked with staff to make sure the tender called for space in Amherst, but could not restrict it solely to the downtown.

He also favours the decision to send it to the open market.

“In these economic times we have to make sure we get the best return for our buck so I think it’s good that it’s going to the market,” Farrell said.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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