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Real ‘download’ numbers expected Monday

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Area municipalities should be able to start accurate “number-crunching” Monday as to what the provincial downloading of services will mean to local taxpayers next year.

Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said about a dozen municipal treasurers from across the province are slated to meet with the province Friday in Toronto to compare calculations.

From there, they hope to come up with exact figures so municipalities can work on their 1998 budgets.

This move came out of meetings in Toronto last week after members of the two transition teams charged the figures released earlier by the province were inaccurate.

“We refused those figures,” Mayor Witherspoon noted, adding team members wanted to show the province calculations done by their own people.

“These should be the exact figures,” he argued.

Mayor Witherspoon recommended the treasurers of either Dryden or Chapple attend from Northwestern Ontario.

Chapple clerk/treasurer Doris Dyson said she hadn’t heard about the meeting. And though he’s still waiting to see if he’s on the list, Dryden treasurer Paul Heayn is hoping to have a chance to show the ministry his own calculations—and challenge theirs.

“We’ve done our homework,” Heayn assured yesterday, noting he sent letters out to all the agencies to find out what sort of bills the town would be facing with the downloading of services come 1998.

About three-quarters of those agencies sent replies.

With those numbers, Heayn said Dryden is facing a deficit of $3.6 million—or a 75 percent increase in everybody’s taxes, which he assured wasn’t going to happen.

He also noted provincial calculations were a little light compared to what Dryden crunched. For all of Kenora District, the province calculated a $7.2-million deficit. But Heayn argued Kenora was 40 percent larger than Dryden, and that the two municipalities alone would surpass the $7.2 million.

“Unless they have a better crystal ball than we have, I can’t see where the difference is coming,” echoed Geraldton Mayor Michael Power, who was elected president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario last week.

“I’m hoping that they are more correct," he added. "I’m expecting that they’re going to get more real with their numbers.”

Because of the recent amalgamation of four townships and the unincorporated area there, Mayor Power couldn’t say what the download would mean for Geraldton.

But what wasn’t factored into that equation was the $677 million lost in transfer payments. Power said municipalities still are expected to cut back 2.3 percent annually for three years to cope with that loss.

Power said there’s already been a recommendation that a new act be passed to entrench a $240 million Northern Development Investment Fund permanently into legislation.

With a lower industrial and commercial base, Power anticipated Northern Ontario communities would be dealt a hard blow by the downloading.

But he also said he had to accept Premier Mike Harris at face value when he told delegates at AMO’s annual meeting last week that the downloading would end up being cost-neutral.

“He has said that he would be satisfied . . . to hear things worked out by the year 2000,” Mayor Witherspoon noted.

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