Saturday, July 26, 2014

Subdivision will bear more discussion

While it’s certain the old Huffman School property will be demolished this spring, how the town proceeds with developing the Williams Avenue site into a residential subdivision is a topic to be tackled during 2013 budget talks.
This and many other issues were discussed during a special meeting last Thursday in which council and administration spent nearly two-and-a-half hours reviewing the town’s strategic plan to determine the status of objectives laid out in the plan, where they must go in the year ahead, and what will have to wait.

Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the property development is “going to be a huge budget concern,” and there even may be changes in philosophy in regards to the recent layoffs at the local mill and what the future of the community will be.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown said the town soon will put the project out to tender and find out what it will cost to develop the subdivision.
“We should get some numbers so that we can gather these people together that may be interested in the properties and give them a more solid idea of what the property will cost,” noted Coun. Paul Ryan.
“And also we’ll find out how serious these people are in building here.”
As an aside, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft noted no appeals have been filed against council’s decision to rezone the property last month.
Meanwhile, council and administration want to meet with condo developer Robert Zanette and his local rep, Kathy Judson, to talk about the status of the proposed condo development on the riverfront.
McCaig said they are going to have to have “a blunt conversation” about the future of that project.
“We’re going to have a conversation that needs to be had regarding if we’re going to proceed, what it takes to proceed, or if we’re going to go in a totally different direction,” he noted.
Coun. John Albanese said he’s aware there are local residents who desperately want to know if the condo development is going to happen or not, and have been unable to get any information about it.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown, meanwhile, said he feels it’s the “prime time” to take another look at the cost of bag tags and possibly doing away with the “free” bag of garbage each household gets each week.
“I think there’s revenue there and I think we should start to look at that again,” he remarked.
“We’re in a financial crisis,” he stressed. “I know we can’t raise taxes a lot, but we have to have services paid for and there’s still taxation costs in the waste management system.
“This is the time to look at it.”
This matter will be reviewed by the Operations and Facilities executive committee.
And with regards to residential water meters, they won’t be a reality here anytime soon unless the province says so.
Councillors agreed the town doesn’t have the money or time to spend on implementing water meters until they are required to do so by the province.
“I suggest that we shelve this until a point when we’re mandated to do so,” said Coun. Ryan, noting that the day will come.
“Conservation is big down east, and when they make that rule, it applies to us, same as the airport,” he added.
Airport regulations
The town continues to spend a good deal of time and money keeping up with mandated airport regulations.
McCaig said it’s another example of “the government cramming something down your throat.”
“It’s a bureaucracy that keeps getting bigger and bigger, and for Fort Frances, some of the elements of this plan, some of the things we have to do and the way we have to do it, it’s like building a cabinet for your china and you have to pound a small nail or staple in with a 20-pound sledgehammer,” he remarked.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous, and there’s a real lack of appreciation from our senior levels of government about communities like Fort Frances and what the reality is in these northern communities and how little resources we have and the uphill battles we’re fighting, and how this is just taking us way off the things that are important in our community,” added McCaig.
He noted the money the town has to spend to meet the standards would be better spent in other ways.
The biggest safety issue—wildlife on the runway—has been addressed since the new fencing was installed (not one deer has made it onto the runway since).
But now that the fence is in place, airport staff must patrol the five km of wildlife fencing each month to ensure the barrier is secure.
Meanwhile, the cost to run the airport here doesn’t get any cheaper, and the town once again will ask district municipalities to help pay to operate it at the annual general meeting of the Rainy River District Municipal Association on Jan. 26 in Barwick.
The town started debating with district municipalities more than two years ago about all parties (except Atikokan) helping foot the bill to run the airport here.
Various scenarios were discussed, including charging $5 per capita, but the response was mixed.
DSSAB formula
Town council also feels that in light of the jobs cuts at the local mill and the potential loss of assessment, the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board will have to take a look at its apportionment formula and how it operates.
“The reduction in assessment, and in the population and households, is going to affect every municipality in the Rainy River District,” warned Coun. Perry, who also sits on the DSSAB board.
McCaig said the town has been trying to get DSSAB to re-evaluate its board governance structure and the way apportionment works for several years, and it’s taken the reality of the mill shutdown and layoffs to get them to take notice.
He added the town has spoken to DSSAB and the province about how a couple of municipalities, whose combined population is significantly smaller than Fort Frances, repeatedly can out-vote Fort Frances on issue after issue due to weighted voting while, at the same time, Fort Frances is paying the lion’s share of apportionment costs.
“I sincerely hope now that there is a recognition that there is some financial issues by our partner municipalities,” said McCaig.
“I hope now that they will consider what we’ve had to say for the last five years in a meaningful way, and they will revisit some of our philosophies that I don’t believe they considered to the necessary extent.”
Assisted living
Town council will continue to support, in principle, the initiative undertaken by the Assisted Living Action Group (A.L.A.G.) to explore having an assisted living facility here.
As well, council will attend a meeting Jan. 23 in the Shaw Room at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre, where A.L.A.G. will present community stakeholders with an action plan.
But several councillors pointed out their support is for a financially-independent model for assisted living in the community, stressing the town has no intentions to get involved in the assisted living business.
The Planning and Development executive committee last met with A.L.A.G. on Dec. 3 to discuss potential building sites for a future assisted living facility, where council reiterated its stance and let the group know what the town would and wouldn’t do for them.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted that he’s read the survey conducted by A.L.A.G. this past summer, which found the majority of people who responded wanted two-bedroom apartments with all the amenities.
But only 0.8 percent were willing to pay $3,000 or more per month in order to live in such an assisted living facility.
“There’s a disconnect between what the survey results have given them and what they want to go forward with,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“I think they have a problem on their hands.”
Coun. Perry said he believes the financial support for assisted living is available through various agencies, such as DSSAB and the local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).
“The financial support is already here,” he noted.
“You just have to have it fine-tuned, and have those people that want assisted living go and talk to the people that have the availability of all the things they do have and all the ministries they can get it from, and carry it forward.”
Coun. Paul Ryan said councillors have spoken to Health and Long-term minister Care Deb Matthews, who flat out said her ministry is not involved in assisted living and that it’s the domain of the private sector.
“There’s been some talk about maybe the town donating property or something like that, and it may come to the point where we can’t do that, either, because we can’t deal with property through an outfit that is for-profit,” Coun. Ryan added.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be looked at.”
Other items
An active transportation plan to provide means for citizens to safely bike and walk from one end of town to the other also was shelved as councillors agreed last week that unless the Northwestern Health Unit and province come forward with $800,000, it’s too expensive at this time.
“We just can’t afford it,” said Coun. Perry.
Since the 2011 strategic plan, the town has engaged in an energy retrofit project with Honeywell Inc.
The Honeywell project retrofits local municipal buildings, including the Memorial Sports Centre, recreational facilities, Civic Centre, and water and sewage treatment plants, with the aim to save the town money, energy, curb unexpected equipment failures, and revitalize facilities.
For example, new boilers were installed at the Civic Centre, and McCaig said the town already is seeing “fantastic savings” in energy consumption.
A future improvement will include changing streetlights in town so they’re brighter and more energy-efficient.
Meanwhile, interaction with area First Nations remains a part of everyday operations, said McCaig.
For example, the town remains open to exploring resolution to any of the Agency One land issues before litigation, has been working with the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat on several things, and currently is working on a new water service agreement with Couchiching FN and the Ministry of Indian Affairs.
The Fort Frances Power Corp. also is actively pursuing relationships with area First Nations in regards to setting up solar power generation.
As well, council participated in the unprecedented gathering of municipal and First Nation leaders from around the district last year at Manitou Mounds, and will attend the second such meeting later this month.
Finally, the Sister Kennedy Centre Board of Management is working on a report regarding seniors’ services.
Two public meetings were held last year and the input provided is being compiled.
That information will be brought to the board, which, in turn, will write a report for council on its findings.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas said the intention is to make the Sister Kennedy Centre a hub for seniors’ activities and to provide seniors with the programming they want.

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