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Budget to take another hit tonight

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It’s been hacked numerous times already but tonight the committee of the whole will draw the purse strings even tighter as it looks to find another $685,000 in savings from the town’s proposed 1998 budget.

“That’s still to be achieved to reach a zero tax increase,” CAO Bill Naturkach noted Monday.

He also admitted this has been the most difficult budget to bring in line.

“The closest thing that came to it . . . was the ‘social contract,’” Naturkach said, recalling municipalities had a percentage of their grants cut during those years.

“Those times are minor compared to now,” he added.

During a nearly five-hour meeting last Thursday, the committee of the whole axed $714,000 from the $1.4 million estimated that still needed to be cut.

One controversy revolved around a recommendation to budget $400,000 less—based on the town’s history of surplus (the unaudited surplus in 1997 was $670,000)—and trying to achieve the savings throughout the year.

If it wasn’t achieved, the town could access those dollars from reserves. But council members weren’t sure this was a good move.

“We can’t deficit budget,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon insisted.

“At some point, you’re going to have to allocate it,” agreed Coun. Deane Cunningham, arguing they couldn’t hold back dollars and say they weren’t deficit budgeting.

But Naturkach noted they weren’t deficit budgeting by doing this. Rather, he felt they were revenue budgeting.

“It’s highly unusual. We’ve never done it before. But these are unusual times,” he stressed.

Treasurer Carol Busch noted a cleaner way to do this could be to show it as a reduction in expenditure and have it allocated on a divisional basis.

Or, she added, look at a priority list outlining $400,000 worth of areas where efficiencies could be achieved.

“The managers and myself weren’t able to come up with $400,000 to do that,” Naturkach added.

While they objected to the concept, the committee of the whole didn’t remove the recommendation—nor the $400,000 savings it achieved.

“Obviously, we’re going to come back to it,” Coun. Cunningham said.

Other savings found at last Thursday’s meeting included:

•increasing the per-day fee for unsubsidized spots at the Fort Frances Children’s Complex, saving about $10,000 in 1998;

•doubling the town’s portion of the Nevada pull tabs licence to three percent;

•upping ice rental fees by five percent, and youth day camp fees, swimming lessons, and Aqua Fit classes by eight percent;

•charging a two-cent stuffing fee for items included in the town’s monthly billing;

•increasing bylaw, building official, committee of adjustment, and tariff fees for planning matters;

•adding revenue from the colombarium niches; and

•increasing the estimated revenue (not the rates themselves) from tipping fees, building permit revenue, and reducing the traffic signal maintenance estimates.

“There was no capital in [Thursday] night’s discussion,” Naturkach noted.

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