The Town of Faro has plans to take over ownership of buildings left behind when the town’s mine — and major economic driver — shut down 20 years ago.
Scattered around town are abandoned single-family homes and various multi-family units that were once full of people.
“They’re basically an eyesore,” said chief administrative officer Ian Dunlop. “They’re in dilapidated condition, there’s peeling paint, siding is falling off.”
The Faro mine was the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in Canada. At its peak the mine contributed more than a third of Yukon’s GDP and Faro had a population of 2,500 people.
There was a grocery store, a retail centre and a post office. In 1997 the mine shut down. The town’s population is now about 400.
In all, 37 building with a total of 170 living units sit mostly abandoned, according to a report by the town. The owner of those buildings, the now-defunct Faro Real Estate Limited, managed rent for all of the town’s miners and took care of the mortgages on the buildings. It now owes about $3 million in back taxes.
Liens were placed on the buildings in about 2003, but little has been done since then.
Previous councils and administration have been hesitant to deal with the issue because it’s a complex problem, Dunlop said.
Now town council says it’s ready to take on the task. For starters, council sent letters to the company owners reminding them about the taxes, Dunlop said.
If things go as expected and a $3 million cheque doesn’t get mailed to the town, after about 31 days Faro will be able to apply under the Yukon’s Municipal Act to take over title to the properties.
Dunlop estimates the process will take between 60 and 90 days.
What happens next is still up in the air. An assessment completed in 2013 looked at two thirds of the buildings and found 16 that should be torn down.
Once the town officially owns the buildings, the plan is to do more assessments over the winter and have a detailed strategy in place by spring, Dunlop said.
“Ultimately the town doesn’t want to keep owning all of them. We want to see who would be interested in purchasing them and exploring all those options.”
Faro and the Yukon’s Department of Community Services are already in talks to form a community development team “to figure out the economic development opportunities that we have here,” he said.
Ideas so far have ranged from repurposing the old windows to building community greenhouses, to using one of the homes as a classroom for trades training.
Properties could be sold at market value, via auction or through a tender.
There’s been talk about starting up a municipal development corporation, similar to how some First Nations mange their assets, Dunlop said.
The development corporation could take on the renovation and make the properties available for rent, for example.
Dunlop said the town doesn’t expect to make back all of the money it’s owed. But taking care of the properties, which could become a liability and a safety hazard, is important, Dunlop said. So is starting to generate revenue.
“From the town’s perspective, we obviously haven’t had property taxes paid on these properties for a number of years,” he said.
“What we would like to see is that these properties would go into new hands and people would start paying taxes on it.”
All that is up in the air until the ownership is officially transferred to the town.
Murray Hampton is the last local representative of Faro Real Estate Limited. He said he doesn’t expect any problems with the transfer.
“We’ve just been holding the titles, keeping the legal end of things up, until the town was ready to take them over,” he said.
At its peak the company was managing more than 400 rental units, Hampton said.
After the mine closed there was no money coming in to pay the taxes.
The company sold off many of its buildings and paid off the corresponding back taxes with money from the sales, he said.
Revitalizing what’s left will likely take a few years, Dunlop said.
“In five years, I think the success will be if Faro is a transformed community.”
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