Nokomis Mayor fighting to keep Gas and Agro open

Nokomis Mayor David Mark has some strong words for how Last Mountain Co-operative GM Ward Bruner handled the sudden August 25th closing of the local Agro centre and gas station. LMC said it was forced to close due to staffing issues.

Despite the LMC putting out a call to hire with the position closing on September 23, the building remains closed. Mark says they do not trust how restaffing is being handled and are aware of competent applicants and offers of help to re-open.

Mark calls the absence of the sale of fuel in the town ‘crippling’. He alleged it was known that there would be a staffing issue, and the GM took no steps in advance.

After meeting with the Last Mountain Co-op board and conversations with the GM, Mark says they have now sent a letter to FCL.

They are saying that now is not the time to look at retracting services. Mark says the community of 419 is growing, with 35 homes purchased in Town in the last three years. It is on the doorstep of one of the largest pastures in the province, with many cattle operations needing its services; the Jansen Lake Potash mine is 49 km away; Nokomis is now at the intersection of three major fibre optic networks.

He says they have called on the board to expedite the re-opening of the agro centre and to challenge the thinking that if other communities are losing their services, why can’t Nokomis? “I can’t let seemingly delayed will-less process continue.” Mark wants to see the gas pumping again by the end of next week. “People need the gas station to be open. We have healthcare workers, teaching staff, Dr Lim’s patients- he has 6000 patients.”

Mark says the GM is applying a larger urban mindset, not putting time into older centres and consolidating services to Raymore.

“We are members of our co-op we had and require certain services. We ask for them, get them and work together to deliver them.” He said the board said that sales were not great at the agro centre, and he brought to their attention that there has been a lack of investment in the property with peeling paint and a windowless door.

“This Town has seen growth, we have made major investments. We are not going to let one man stand in the way, pull a lynch pin out.”

While Mark isn’t sure how long the co-op has been operating in Nokomis, he believes it goes back to the 1950s. “From a municipal point of view this is a dedicated partnership, it’s an old one. There is no reason why we have to think small because we are currently small. If they did that when there was nothing what would we have?”

Mark said he thinks further down the line about the opportunities that growth presents and is excited by those prospects.

Mark said the LMC grocery store is doing an excellent job in Town and gives kudos to the former employees of the agro centre and the current employees of the grocery store.

The co-op has a card lock in Town, but Mark says that isn’t sufficient. “It’s showing its age. It needs to be replaced. There is no point of sale debit. People do not want a co-op card lock card.” He said people have difficulty getting them, and people without good credit can’t.

Mark challenges old ways of thinking small, giving the example of building a daycare when people questioned why - it’s now full. “This mindset of ‘ahh well, it’s good enough’ for lack of a better word is bullshit, and it needs to be called as such and kicked to the curb. We’ve done too much; I’ve spent too much time and passion on this place to just roll over.”

When asked for comment, LMC GM Ward Bruner said they didn’t have much notice due to staff leaving and couldn’t keep it open. He doesn’t know when they hope to have staff in place. “I don’t have much to comment on it other than we are going through hiring processes.”

The Town gave Ward an October 28 deadline to respond to their questions. Ward replied, “As soon as I have information [about] what we are going to do, I will let them know. I can’t give a definitive date at this time.”

Bruner said the card lock system has been working throughout harvest. “We know this is a challenge for the community and something that we hadn’t anticipated, and unfortunately, circumstances have brought us to where we are today.”

When asked about the assertion that the centre is being left to die, Ward said he couldn’t comment on the Town’s speculation. When asked if the LMC were letting the Agro centre die, Ward would not say they weren’t and would only say, “well, we are doing interviewing.”

Area farmer Shaun Thompson has cattle and sheep and wants it open. The next closest place to get gas is 39 km away in Lanigan. “Like we can afford that with all the carbon tax. It means we have to go somewhere else to pick up inputs: Mineral, salt, posts, baler twine. I’ve got stuff sitting in that store I ordered through the last manager. And its still sitting there. It’s stuff I need. Its closed. I’m screwed…I think that what everybody needs to do in the Nokomis area is cancel their membership to the co-op get paid out. If we don’t have service, if we don’t have an outlet, cancel it and make FCL pay us out. We all have shares in FCL. Well what the hell are we doing if we don’t have a store.”

We have reached out to the FCL and the President of the LMC board but didn’t hear back before publication.

Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times