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Town hoping for boost from FedNor

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While not yet making a financial commitment in the 2008 budget, Fort Frances council tentatively is supporting a possible agreement with FedNor that would boost the cash flow for economic development here.

Stressing that the matter still is in the proposal stage, Geoff Gillon of the Rainy River Future Development Corp. told councillors Monday he’s in discussions with FedNor to enter into a three-year agreement, where FedNor would provide funds to match money the town puts forward for certain economic development projects.

Funds would be matched up to $50,000, so that if the town were to contribute $50,000, it actually would have a total of $100,000 to use.

Gillon noted that in recent years, Fort Frances, along with several other district municipalities, has been paying the RRFDC $7 per capita for its services.

Some of this money is used for economic development projects, or the upkeep of past projects, like maintaining the ‘Mom’s Way” signage.

If the proposed agreement with FedNor goes through, the extra funding would be used for economic development projects more specifically geared to Fort Frances, said Gillon.

A town economic commission, possibly a version of the current Economic Development Advisory Committee, would have control over where the money is spent.

It would work closely with the RRFDC and FedNor “to move the community forward, and become a little more aggressive” and “allow more visibility, more activity” when it comes to economic development.

Gillon also said the contribution to be matched by FedNor can be up to $50,000, so if the town doesn’t want to give that much, it doesn’t have to.

Likewise, the balance could be contributed by a private funding source wanting to support economic development here.

Given that the deal with FedNor would be a three-year agreement, any FedNor money not spent one year would be carried over to the next year, noted Mayor Roy Avis.

“Our total draw is $150,000, so we can top that up in the second or third year if we wanted to,” he explained.

Mayor Avis said he would like to see the economic development focus be on attracting businesses and developing housing properties, thus increasing the town’s tax base and reducing “rate shock” for taxpayers.

“Our job is to increase the assessment,” he stressed.

“I think it would be very good for the town, but how fluid is it?” asked Coun. Andrew Hallikas, referring to the potential agreement with FedNor. “Could specifics be worked out later, and can they be changed if something comes up?”

Gillon noted an economic “structure” would be built with a town sub-committee and FedNor, with the focus on certain activities.

But the contract with FedNor could be amended as needed in the future, as “sometimes you need to make a right turn” and “economic development projects are fluid by their very nature.”

Gillon clarified that at this point, he needs council’s support in order to move ahead with the proposal with FedNor, stressing that council could back out at any time—even the last minute—if it wanted to.

“I need you to say yes, you’re prepared to work with us to do the finer details of the strategy and say that you’re happy with it, and then take it to FedNor and have them come back and say, these are the deliverables they want before we sign a contract and move ahead,” he remarked.

“The last thing would be to have some mechanism in place so we have a working relationship figured out as to how things will go between myself and [Fort Frances CAO] Mark [McCaig] and the committee,” added Gillon.

He will submit a proposal to FedNor in the near future. If approved, council then will have to decide whether to put additional money aside in the budget for economic development, and if so, how much.

In other budget business Monday, councillors:

•identified that the town needs to set aside $57,854 in the 2008 budget to begin its fleet replacement program first mentioned in the Jan. 9 edition of the Times (the purpose of this reserve fund is to eventually replace all town vehicles purchased since 2003);

•priorized vehicle purchases for 2008;

•agreed to apply the Infrastructure Ontario grant to help pay for the $55,000 renovations to the town water tower (the town will ask for funds to cover 75 percent of the cost);

•directed Community Services manager George Bell to look into funding sources to hire a consultant to conduct a sustainable community plan (such a plan would better position the town to access the provincial Green Municipal Fund, which focuses on energy-efficiency, waste management, and other such areas); and

•directed administration and management to talk to the Fort Frances Power Corp. regarding new street light poles (the poles along Phase One of La Verendrye Parkway and in some of the subdivisions are in poor shape).

Monday’s budget meeting was followed by a very brief council meeting, during which council:

•changed the date of the it second meeting in February from Monday, Feb. 25 to Tuesday, Feb. 19 (this is because there will not be enough councillors present for a quorum on Feb. 25);

•agreed to let the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres erect a sign on town property near Tim Hortons to promote the upcoming SIJHL all-star game (Feb. 1-2);

•approved a letter of support for a community investment readiness project;

•passed a bylaw to approve an agreement with the minister of transportation for financing under the Dedicated Gas Tax Funds for Public Transportation Program;

•passed a bylaw to provide limited signing authority to the town’s solicitor in a matter of mediation; and

•passed a bylaw to amend the bylaw regarding qualifications for appointment of members to local boards, committees, and commissions.

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