Released: March 15, 2015
Simcoe, ON – Norfolk County Council has met with Nancy Rogers, CPA, CA, IFA, CBV, CIP, CFF of NRogers & Associates Inc., the firm hired to review and investigate the events surrounding the sublease and use of 10 acres of County owned farm land adjacent to the Simcoe & District Youth Soccer Club facilities on McDowell Road. This included review of monies paid and received, if any, for the sublease of the farm land and the investments made as it now stands in ginseng.
The 40 acre site for the soccer park was purchased by Norfolk County for $160,000 in 2003 and the Simcoe & District Youth Soccer Club Inc. contributed $80,000. The County and the Soccer Club entered into a 10 year lease that ended January 31, 2013. Under the terms of the lease, the Soccer Club was to maintain the property and could not sublease without the County’s consent.
Prior to 2003 the property was farmed by Mills Orchard. The soccer park was developed in 3 phases, beginning in 2004. After Phase 2 in 2009, the undeveloped back 10 acres became inaccessible from the road, but it was accessible for farming through a neighbouring farm.
Main Findings of the Investigation:
- The farm operation that had rented the land from the former owner paid rent of $1,260 to the Soccer Club in 2003 and planted corn.
- To allow the start of Phase 1 of the soccer field development later in 2004, the Soccer Club requested that the farmer harvest early. The Soccer Club contributed $1,640 to the farmer’s increased costs to dry the corn.
- Except for the monies documented as being exchanged in 2003 and 2004, there are no indications that monies have been paid or received for the sublease of undeveloped land that has been farmed since 2003.
- As of 2005, land not used for soccer fields was farmed by Judge Farms with the knowledge of both the Soccer Club and the County. They planted annual crops and attended to the land to maintain it to allow for future development. While this arrangement was not formally documented, all parties involved agreed it was made, it was to the mutual benefit of all parties and no monetary compensation was exchanged.
- In 2013, Kicksee Farms rented the neighbouring property to the west of the soccer park for ginseng. As a result Judge Farms no longer had access to the undeveloped soccer park lands. At that time the County was asked by Judge Farms if ginseng could be planted on the land. Available documentation indicates that in 2013, the County staff, after consulting with the Soccer Club, decided that ginseng should not be planted on the land.
- Based on communication between the farmers, Kicksee Farms planted millet and mustard seed on that undeveloped land in 2013, without confirming its use of the land with either the Soccer Club or the County. Neither the Soccer Club nor the County took notice of that farming activity as unusual compared to previous years.
- Kicksee Farms began other preparations for ginseng on all the farm land in 2013.
- In April 2014 those preparations reached a point that was noticed by the Soccer Club and the County. At that time, it became apparent that there had been some confusion and some misunderstanding in regards to the informal communication that had occurred a year earlier among the County, the Soccer Club and Judge Farms and between Judge Farms and Kicksee Farms, that had resulted in Kicksee Farms preparing the land for ginseng.
- The Community Services Department decided to permit Kicksee Farms to continue preparations for ginseng based, in part, on information about the level of investment made up to April 2014 for growing a ginseng crop on the land that was subsequently determined to be inaccurate.
In August of 2014 Council passed a motion that Norfolk County agrees to enter into a five year land rental/lease agreement with Kicksee Farms Ltd. The Treasurer was authorized to establish a reserve fund for the proposed $4,000 annual rental income generated, to be used for the future development of the soccer park. The Community Services Department was instructed to negotiate a new lease with the Simcoe & District Youth Soccer Club Inc.
During discussion of the motion to lease to Kicksee Farms in August 2014, Council considered public concerns about this farming activity being closer to the soccer fields than this farmer’s much larger adjacent ginseng fields. Council provided direction to staff about expected types of safeguards and monitoring of farming activities. It is expected that the Soccer Club and the County will receive advance notice and farming activities will be restricted to appropriate times.
Norfolk County has many lease, licence and management agreements with community groups and other organizations throughout the County. The administration of such agreements has traditionally been assigned to each department, without any centralized management.
In 2014, Council approved a property management coordinator position in Corporate Support Services for a two-year trial period. The primary focus is to identify unused and other properties that are surplus to the County’s needs. Part of the proceeds of sale of surplus property is intended to cover the cost of the position.
County Manager Keith Robicheau observed that, “Fortunately very few problems like this one have occurred. Going forward, significant leases should be administered by the property management coordinator. This will ensure appropriate attention can be given to important details and formal requirements. It should assist the groups that are parties to these agreements and the staff that work with those groups out in our communities.”
In summing up, Mayor Charlie Luke said, “While this has been an unhappy situation, Council is satisfied we’ve gotten to the bottom of it. Steps are being taken to protect the safety and interests of the public.”
Charlie Luke, Mayor
(519) 426-5870 x1220
Keith Robicheau, County Manager
(519) 426-5870 x1225