Gary Rogozinski, first vice-president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, urged town council Monday night to be sure to include in its 2004 budget a contract renewal with the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
“The Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, as spokesperson for close to 200 businesses in the community and district, is concerned that the mayor and council continue to defer the decision on renewing the contract with the [RRFDC] and their efforts towards economic development in Fort Frances,” Rogozinski said during the public meeting on the budget.
“Economic development is extremely important to the growth and future viability of Fort Frances,” he stressed.
“New businesses, expansion of existing businesses, redevelopment of the infrastructure, and marketing the community and district is needed, not only to attract tourists to come and spend time and dollars, but to also provide an attractive community atmosphere to encourage our children and skilled professionals to come, work, and live in Fort Frances,” he argued.
Rogozinski noted the RRFDC has successfully managed these functions over the past few years.
“The development of Fort Frances is not a task that one can direct on the side as a hobby or part-time function; it is a long-term strategic responsibility and commitment that requires constant planning, looking not only at our community but how expansion and development in the total district will positively impact Fort Frances,” Rogozinski said.
“Marketing is essential to the overall plan.”
He noted that just last year, the town, Chamber, and RRFDC signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding to work together on promoting the Fort Frances area through marketing and economic development initiatives.
Rogozinski said the Chamber works closely with the RRFDC to entice people to visit the area, to stay and eat here, and to purchase goods—all of which are essential to the “long-term health of the Fort Frances business community.”
“I ask the question, ‘Would it be wise to reduce or eliminate a key function that would bring new income into the community and town for years to come?’
“If the cost is a concern, perhaps the $100,000 a year being spent on litigation for Pither’s Point Park may be better utilized towards economic development and marketing,” Rogozinski remarked.
“Politically, the present approach towards resolving the park issue is somewhat negative and confrontational,” he charged. “Should we not wait until the federal government and the First Nations groups resolve the land claim issue and then the town have a positive negotiation with the owner?”
Council agreed last month to extend the town’s current contract with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. because it still had not decided whether to sign a new three-year deal with them.
The decision was made during a special committee of the whole meeting Feb. 19 at the Civic Centre, when it was brought up that council previously had pledged to have an answer for the RRFDC by Feb. 29.
At that time, Mayor Dan Onichuk said such a confirmation just wasn’t feasible at that point as it was intertwined with the ongoing budget process.
Council received a report from the RRFDC on Dec. 15, at which time it indicated it would try and make a decision whether to sign a new deal by Feb. 29.
This deal could cost the town up to $112,500 a year.
At that time, RRFDC chair Telford Advent told council that if the town does not choose the RRFDC, it would have a very difficult time finding a suitable replacement for similar economic development services.
As well, any replacement likely would cost even more than the capped amount of $112,500 the RRFDC charges the town—given that it would mean hiring a consultant, secretarial staff, and setting up a new office at the very least.
Advent noted if the town decided not to go with the RRFDC, it likely would mean current projects would have to be scaled back and staff would have to be laid off.
Advent said the RRFDC would continue to exist and serve the rest of the district, but that, by working on contravention of the policy “what’s good for Fort Frances is good for the district” and vice versa, both the town and neighbouring municipalities would suffer.
The RRFDC, which is partially funded by FedNor, must contact the federal government about its funding—and whether the town is on board—by the end of March.
The RRFDC’s current contract with the town expired Nov. 30, but the previous “lame duck” council was unable to renew the agreement prior to the new council coming in.
Instead, council has since given the RRFDC contract extensions pending the decision on a long-term commitment.