Leamington Mayor to Meet With Heinz Executives

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Windsor Star/Monica Wolfson

LEAMINGTON – Mayor John Paterson has agreed to meet with H.J. Heinz Co. executives on Friday, a week after the company said it was closing its Leamington plant and laying off 740 full-time and 350 seasonal workers.

“I don’t know what the meeting is for but I’ll bring my concerns,” he said. The mayor wants to find out the company’s plans for the plant, whether it will look for a buyer or strip it bare.

Farmer and former Coun. Herb Enns said he’s worried the town will get stuck with a big industrial cleanup bill after the 104-year-old Heinz plant closes in June.

“From my observation they haven’t done much to that plant in three years,” said Enns, who grew tomatoes for Heinz for 35 years.

Paterson said he’ll raise the issue of cleanup costs when he meets with Heinz executives in Toronto.

Practically every decision councillors made Monday reflected concern about the future of the town’s finances and the ability of residents to pay their bills. Coun. Hilda MacDonald said the town will have to rethink its five- and ten-year plans.

“Hopefully there will be a turnaround or we’ll completely reinvent ourselves,” she said. “We’ll have to be proactive. We want people to know we are being fiscally responsible.”

MacDonald recognized that the town isn’t just losing 740 jobs.

“When you lose that kind of workforce, you lose the spinoff businesses, the label makers and tomato growers,” she said. “It has to affect a lot more than 740.”

Council struggled Monday to approve construction of an 18-kilometre trail that will be 80 per cent paid for by other organizations. After much discussion and assurances that gas tax money will pay for the trail, council approved applying for a Trans Canada Trail grant to build a trail that will run through Kingsville, Lakeshore and Leamington. The total cost of the project is $2.2 million with the TCT paying $1.4 million and the rest being divided among the county, ERCA, Kingsville, Leamington and Lakeshore. Leamington’s share is $275,000.

“I need assurances that residents won’t have to dip into their pockets to fund this,” Coun. Rick Atkin said.

Coun. John Jacobs said he’s not just concerned about losing the $1.3 million Heinz pays to the town, county and school board in property taxes. The ketchup maker is also a big water and sewer plant customer.

“We have to reassess where we are going and have to prioritize our actions,” Jacobs said.