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Over to the private sector
GNWT won't erect building for liquor store in Hay River

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, June 22, 2010

HAY RIVER - The GNWT has abandoned a controversial idea to construct its own building in downtown Hay River to house a liquor store.

That means it won't be buying two side-by-side lots for the building, even though it had already put a deposit on the land and the sale had been approved by the town.

The government's initial plan to construct a building annoyed the Hay River business community, which wanted a chance to bid on the project, and even caused divisions on town council.

Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger said the GNWT will now issue a tender call for construction of a building or provision of an existing building to house the liquor store.

The decision followed a request for information on what the private sector could offer. Responses convinced government the business sector could be competitive for the project.

"The numbers came in close enough that we're going to go to a tender process to acquire a building on a 20-year term and then, once we have the building built, then we'll put out a tender for the operation of the liquor store," Miltenberger said, adding some existing buildings in the downtown core could be renovated.

The request for information closed on May 19 and the government received five submissions.

A tender call could be issued in a matter of weeks, Miltenberger said.

The minister guessed a building could be ready for occupancy by next spring.

Business unhappiness with the idea of government constructing a building influenced the decision to issue a request for information.

"We're politicians," Miltenberger said. "We want to make the right decision. We were challenged to test the market, which was what the request for information was, and so I accepted that challenge."

The minister said a request for information was not issued earlier because government's initial assessment indicated constructing its own building was the best option.

With the decision not to proceed with buying the land from the Town of Hay River, the GNWT loses its $13,000 deposit on the two lots.

"The whole project is several millions of dollars, so I thought it was a worthwhile price to pay to make sure we had all our bases covered and our options opened when we decided," Miltenberger said of the deposit. "The money is not lost. It goes to the community and they'll put it to good use, and the overall project's costs will at some point absorb this."

In April, town council narrowly approved selling the lots to the GNWT in a divided vote.

During debate, Coun. Bernie Langille said the sale would mean businesspeople would be competing with their own tax dollars.

Mayor Kelly Schofield cast the deciding vote, which is a rarity, after councillors voted 2-2 on the sale. A mayor votes when a vote is tied.

The land sale issue also brought to light a problem with the GNWT's Conflict of Interest Act.

Several councillors were deemed to be in conflict because they are GNWT employees and could not vote on the sale.

The Department of Justice has since committed to amending the act so territorial government employees serving on municipal councils are not automatically deemed to be in conflict on GNWT issues.

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