Despite being the only group to speak out about a proposed community plan at a meeting Monday night, the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce made it clear the economic development incentive program aspect of it needs some work.
“We want the community improvement plan to work, we just found some of the business incentives need improvements,” said Tannis Drysdale, past-president of the local Chamber and current president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce.
“The town’s community planner [Faye Flatt] has informed us that this is the only public meeting required, and if the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is in agreement with the plan as presented, the town could proceed to grant any of the incentives outlined in the plan without further consent,” Drysdale said.
“We would request that before any incentive program is offered that further meetings be scheduled to finalize the incentives,” she remarked.
“We believe that all the incentives should be reviewed against the following criteria: they actually work to overcome an existing business barrier, they do not create an unfair competitive advantage, and they meet a positive cost/benefit test,” Drysdale added.
“In concept, we are in agreement with [town] council approving the incentives under the condition that they are finalized within the criteria we discussed earlier,” noted Gary Rogozinski, a Chamber director who appeared with Drysdale at Monday night’s meeting.
But he added the Chamber had specific criticisms to parts of the plan. One such incentive was the discounting of municipally-owned property.
“The net effect of selling property below market value could cause an overall reduction in the assessment value of the entire area,” Rogozinski argued.
Also, he said the town should extended this practice to the private sector, buying property at its assessed value from the owners and then selling it at a discount to a new business.
The Chamber also suggested the formation of a “municipal red tape commission,” which would undertake a review of existing municipal regulations, taxes, and fees as well as hold meetings at which all citizens could bring red tape issues forward for review.
Drysdale noted the town also should have a lawyer look at the legality of offering incentives in order to prevent legal battles should one business receive benefits over another.
“Your comments will be so noted and perused very closely,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said at the end of the presentation by Drysdale and Rogozinski.
The community improvement plan—which covers everything from the development of recreational trail and parks systems to creating a bypass traffic route for large trucks—first was explained to the public by municipal planner Faye Flatt and Geoff Gillon, the town’s economic development officer.
This plan may be adopted by council in the future, but not before further work by the working group that devised it, further input from the ministry and, finally, ministry approval.