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Budget not done deal: town


A contract with the Rainy River Future Development Corp., and reviews of the provision of day care and Fire and Rescue Services here, are just a few of the weighty issues before council as it works on the 2004 budget, it was revealed at a public meeting Monday night.

But both council and administration are stressing almost nothing is certain in the budget yet as many factors—including the public’s input at Monday’s meeting—still have to be measured before the budget is finalized, acting CAO Mark McCaig said yesterday.

“The purpose of the public meeting is to find out what people think. There hasn’t been a lot of hard and fast decisions in this budget process,” noted McCaig.

“There’s been no final decisions regarding anything,” he added. “Nobody should assume anything’s a done deal. Council is currently looking at all the possibilities.

“It will take as long as it takes.”

McCaig noted the town’s “situation isn’t unique,” and that to the best of his knowledge, Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Kenora, and Sioux Lookout haven’t finalized their budgets at this time and, like Fort Frances, also are facing some tough choices.

“We’re no different than anybody else,” he remarked.

“The process is far from over,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said yesterday afternoon. “We’ve lifted every stone and looked at everything. Nothing’s untouchable.

“But we’ve got a meeting Thursday and then one Monday. The budget will be something we’ll be talking about at every meeting until we finalize it,” he noted, adding he still feels it’s possible the 2004 budget will be complete by March 31.

“Until the budget’s passed, no decisions have been made,” echoed Coun. Tannis Drysdale, admitting a few policy changes—such as bylaw officers no longer having to deal with skunks—have been approved by council in the past few weeks.

“I believe we’ve all made a concerted effort to keep that in mind as a council,” she added.

Coun. Drysdale noted she was pleased with the turnout at Monday’s meeting.

“It’s my job as a councillor to find out what the public’s opinion is, and we certainly found that out,” she said.

Coun. Drysdale also said she was very impressed by Monday’s announcement by Doug McCaig, chair of Fort Frances Network Services, to pay the town a dividend of $350,000 to help cover its projected $2.7-million shortfall.

Mayor Onichuk said he felt his promise to show the public exactly where the budget process was at held true.

“I thought the input was good. Some people were defending their turf, as could be expected, but I made a lot of notes,” he said. “I think we’ll be seeing more presentations at future meetings now that people have a better idea what we’re dealing with.”

McCaig agreed Monday’s meeting was “excellent.”

“That’s what the public process is all about,” he stressed. “Not everyone’s going to be throwing you bouquets, but we found out what we wanted to learn, be it negative or positive.”

While Monday’s public meeting at the Civic Centre saw many comments from residents that council now will take into consideration as it works on the 2004 budget, the event also served as a time to break down into basic terms where the town stands financially and what it can do to balance the books.

A Power Point presentation by Darryl Allan, manager of Information Technology, demonstrated the town was looking at an estimated shortfall of $2.7 million for 2004.

In its ongoing review of the budget, council already has authorized a number of changes that has reduced the shortfall to $1,750.622. Proposed increased user fees would reduce it by a further $180,000.

According to the presentation, there are three avenues available to address the town’s current fiscal situation: increase revenues, decrease expenditures, or a combination of both.

Town council has decided the solution to the problem lies in option three.

So far, the following measures to increase revenues have been under active consideration: increasing taxes, increasing user fees, and introducing new user fees.

While there has been no public information regarding how much a residential tax increase might be, it is known a one percent tax hike would yield an additional $39,762 for the Town of Fort Frances.

In 2003, the tax rate for residential properties (including education) was 0.01631053. This means a house assessed at $100,000 would be subject to property taxes of $1,631.05.

Each percentile of an increase would mean an increase of $9.79 for property assessed at $60,000, $16.35 for that assessed at $100,000, and $24.47 for a property assessed at $150,000.

Meanwhile, a bylaw is before council to increase a number of user fees. These include:

•ice rentals at the Memorial Sports Centre;

•tipping fees at the landfill site;

•child care fees at day care; and

•business licences

In addition, non-resident user fees are being increased significantly.

New user fees that have been considered include:

•bag tags for garbage pickup;

•parking meters; and

•metering for non-resident water usage.

Decreasing expenditures can be accomplished through efficiencies, service reductions, and service eliminations.

Efficiencies are measures that can be taken which allow a service to be continued, but in a less expensive manner. Two examples are changing recycling collection to a bi-weekly pickup on the same days as regular garbage collection as well as centralizing all payroll functions.

Service reductions are actions that are taken which allow a service to continue, but at a reduced level. Examples are reduced hours at the landfill site and a comprehensive review of Fire and Rescue Services.

Service eliminations are actions which, if taken, completely eliminate a service and result in either direct cost savings or the redirection of resources to other priorities.

Examples are the elimination of skunk trapping by town bylaw officers and the elimination of check-in service for campers at Pither’s Point Park.

Other actions to reduce expenditures currently being considered include:

•a review of the scope of the economic development services contracted to the Rainy River Future Development Corp. as well as the per capita contribution;

•no wage increases in the 2004 budget;

•a review of the cleaning services for the Town of Fort Frances; and

•a review of the contract for the provision of day care provider services with the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board.

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