Fort Frances homeowners will see their municipal tax bill go up 10.5 percent on average this year while commercial ratepayers see theirs drop by 3.7 percent.
Before some 20 commercial ratepayers on hand for Monday night’s meeting, Fort Frances councillors voted unanimously to have the commercial ratio rest at one to 3.09 for 1998, down from the one to 3.19 ratio.
The commercial ratepayers, who also pay residential taxes on their homes in town, argued the high taxes were devastating the business community, and driving potential new businesses to look elsewhere.
“We are not perceived right now to be a business-friendly community,” noted local business owner Georges Blanc, stressing his business taxes have doubled over the past seven years through reassessment.
“You can’t keep dumping the problem onto commercial taxpayers. We’ve also got to generate bottom lines. We’ve got to keep ourselves competitive,” he added, pointing out the businesses themselves spend big bucks in the community.
Chamber of Commerce board director Tony Beyak agreed, urging council to make sure the levy allocation remain equitable. He pointed out businesses were going outside the town’s boundary just to avoid the high taxes.
In his own business, Beyak noted his taxes are 50 to 100 percent higher than other dealers in his group.
“It reaches a point where, is it worth it?” he added.
But council tossed out a resolution that suggested a one to three tax ratio, which would bump up residential taxes by 11.1 percent on average and chopping commercial by 5.1 percent.
“If we go too high to the residential side, this gallery will be full of people on the residential side,” Coun. Dave Bourgeault noted, stressing they had to look out for the best interests of all local ratepayers.
“I think an 11.1 percent increase is a bit much for one year,” agreed Coun. Struchan Gilson, adding it should be done more gradually.
“That might be quite a bit to some people,” echoed Coun. Bill Martin.
But Mayor Glenn Witherspoon pointed out they had to look at how taxes compared to other communities with the current 3.19 ratio. And compared with Kenora and Dryden, Fort Frances businesses pay between $2,000 to $3,000 more in municipal taxes annually.
At 1997 rates, business assessed at $227,000 in town way levied $9,400 a year. In Kenora, taxes would be $7,500 and $6,500 in Dryden.
Residential taxpayers, on the other hand, paid between $300 to $600 less in Fort Frances. A $115,000 home in Fort Frances netted $1,700 in taxes, but a similar home in Dryden pays $2,300 and $2,000 in Kenora.
For a $115,000 home, the 10.5 percent increase will mean another $178 will be tacked onto the tax bill.
But not everyone’s tax bill will go up 10.5 percent, explained CAO Bill Naturkach. That figure takes into account the 4.75 budget increase, the reassessment, as well as the shift from commercial to residential. And depending on the reassessment, residential taxes will go up and down accordingly.
Other classes will see increase as well. Commercial vacant units will face a 15.7 percent increase, commercial vacant land 23.4 percent more, while industrial vacant units will see a 41.3 percent jump.
But Mayor Witherspoon stressed this residential tax hike wasn’t caused by the six previous years of zero tax increase.
“Not at all. It’s not a catch up at all,” he assured.
Meanwhile, business owner Paul Noonan stressed he would like to see council put a strategy in place before it tackles the 1999 budget, setting targets that would ease the tax burden placed on commercial ratepayers.
“I think we have to send a message to the business community that we are behind [them] 100 percent,” agreed Coun. Deane Cunningham.
“Hopefully, we’re looking at reducing [the ratio] further. I would like to see it by the end of 2000 at 2.8. [But] 2.9 would be more realistic,” Mayor Witherspoon said, with the ratios to be reviewed each October for the following year.
“We would like to make Fort Frances more enticing for more commercial business,” he added.