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Download numbers still fuzzy

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The figures are in but municipalities won’t find out what the “Who Does What” panel recommendations will mean to their tax bills until more number-crunching is done.

In Fort Frances, managers are going through the 96-page document from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that arrived at the Civic Centre last Wednesday. But CAO Bill Naturkach didn’t feel they would have any answers anytime soon.

“They’re giving us the worksheets that have yet to be worked on," he noted. "[But] there is not a line in there that says our share is going to be ‘x’ dollars.”

Emo Clerk Brenda Cooke said they received the same document but couldn’t say how it would specifically affect their township. She’s hoping to get more details during an Oct. 22 information meeting, hosted by the ministry, at the Red Dog Inn here.

The ministry document speaks to the district-wide services in more detail and spells out how much municipalities altogether will have to pay for the services—with each council to work out its own cost.

Meanwhile, more decisions have to be made at the provincial level, including whether the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines proposal for Area Service Boards [ASBs] will be legislated.

And much depends on whether local authorities will apportion costs by population or by assessment.

But Ian Smith, regional manager with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Thunder Bay, felt these figures would still give municipalities enough information to calculate their 1998 budgets.

“Municipalities normally don’t set their budgets until April or May of the next year anyway,” he noted.

While he admitted the lack of answers was causing some anxiety for councils, especially in an election year, Smith stressed 1998 would be a transition year. The entire exchange of services was to be phased in over the next two to three years.

For now, Smith said some services would stay with current deliverers, with the province to bill municipalities for the costs. But once ASBs take over, who delivers the service may change.

“The hope is that there will be less administrative costs and they will be able to find some savings there," he noted. "I actually think they’re going to find some savings in there.”

If an ASB is not created at the local level, Smith said the Ministry of Community and Social Services would create a board to deliver social assistance throughout the district.

He also felt the exchange of services would end up being cost-neutral for municipalities although what’s not included in the equation is the elimination of municipal grants. Instead, the province is hoping to balance that off with a $570 million community reinvestment fund and a $800,000 capital and operating fund.

Smith also noted having the province take over half the education bill would give some tax room for municipalities.

“What we can’t tell you right now is how much that tax room will be for each municipality,” he admitted.

How much would depend on how close a municipality was to the provincial average. That assessment hasn’t been done yet but it is expected to come down early next year.

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