Friday, September 19, 2014

Be prepared to pay for projects: mayor

With the Town of Fort Frances buckling down more than ever in 2013, anyone who comes forward with projects they’d like to see happen also had better figure how to pay for them.
During a meeting last Thursday to review its strategic plan, the topic of a recreational review—and more specifically a request from a local resident to have an outdoor volleyball court installed at Pither’s Point Park—sparked discussion as to how much the town can be expected to do in these tough economic times.

Mayor Roy Avis said if people come up with ideas for projects, they also should spend time figuring out how these projects will be paid for.
He noted non-union management staff have taken a wage freeze, and all staff are being asked to tighten their belts so there won’t have to be a reduction in services.
Mayor Avis added council can support projects in principle and work with the public to help them. But in cases such as the outdoor volleyball court, it’s got to be “a standalone project.”
“We have to start changing the mindset here,” said CAO Mark McCaig, adding what was taken for granted regarding what people consider the automatic things the town does will be harder to do with fewer people.
“That means you’re going to have managers, in particular, trying to do the things that we’ve traditionally just done and not even really talked about,” he explained.
“There’s kind have been an attitude in the town that, ‘Hey, we’re going to go ask the town to do this,’ and the next thing you know, we’re carrying the ball totally,” McCaig added.
“And then we have something, and then we live with it forever, we maintain it and do whatever.
“It’s not business as usual anymore,” he stressed. “If you have a great idea . . . that’s fine, and you may be able to utilize town property to do it.
“But you and your group may be expected to do the whole thing yourself, including the financing, and in the future, have a plan on how it’s going to be maintained because the town may not be in a position to assimilate that under our umbrella if we are smaller.”
Coun. Andrew Hallikas agreed the town’s mindset has to change, but also said council has to be mindful of community’s situation.
“We’re in an economically tough time and that puts a lot of pressure on everyone, not just council and mayor and administration, but everyone in our community,” he remarked.
“And we need to look at this from a mental health perspective,” he suggested. “In times of stress, what kinds of outlets do we provide for our population?”
Coun. Hallikas felt Community Services manager Jason Kabel should go ahead and do a recreational review, and provide direction on what’s available and the costs of possible projects, including an outdoor volleyball court.
Mayor Avis warned all of the town’s “soft services” will have to be looked at during this year’s budget.
“When we review the Community Services side of it, we’re going to have to take a real good look at the services we offer because some of those services may not be maintained at the level we’ve got today,” he remarked.
“I foresee that maybe some of them are going to have to be nixed,” the mayor added, noting roads and other matters sometimes have to take precedence over recreation and the library and museum.
Coun. Paul Ryan said he agreed with both Coun. Hallikas and Mayor Avis, noting the recreational review should go forward so at least the town can see where it is and what can be done, as well as work with groups to see what they are willing to do.
“I think we should go through that process,” Coun. Ryan remarked.
“It won’t cost us anything and we’ll know where we stand,” he reasoned.
Buckling down
Meanwhile, with Fort Frances facing the possible loss of significant tax revenue stemming from the pending reassessment of the local mill property, as well as grave uncertainty as to the future operation of the mill itself, the town is buckling down in its operations more than ever in 2013.
“Something is going to change regarding the assessment, either related to the current appeal or related to what’s going to happen going forward,” noted McCaig.
“So this is a moving target. It’s got all kinds of elements to it.”
In anticipation of this loss of tax revenue, the town is examining—under its current level of service delivery—all opportunities to realize efficiencies and synergies within the organization.
McCaig said town staffing is quite a bit smaller than it was 10 years ago, either through attrition or where people voluntarily have exited the organization.
“We’re trying to maintain our current levels of service and trying to squeeze as many dollars as we possibly can within our operations, and council’s well aware of that,” he remarked.
McCaig said the town has held two meetings with all its staff regarding the future, both to alleviate fears and ask them to refrain from speculation, as well as to answer their questions.
All staff understands how reassessment can affect the town, not just the community but the town organization, because of the reliance on the tax revenue the mill brings, he added.
“We have to all be engaged in this and committed to keeping the lines of communication open, with the understanding that whether you’re a union worker, whether you’re a management worker, or whether you’re the CAO, the reality within the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances is that you’ll probably be asked to do more,” said McCaig.
He noted that there’s been no negativity from staff, and he’s been encouraged by the fact the entire organization is committed to delivering a high level of service.

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