Council's hands are tied—a new municipal accommodation tax (MAT) still will come into effect on Jan. 1.
Council heard a presentation regarding the new four percent tax from Sarah Noonan, general manger of La Place Rendez-Vous, during its regular meeting last night, with Noonan asking that the tax implementation be delayed for one year and only then implement it if it's deemed necessary.
“I don't believe that there was a responsible level of justification, research, consultation, education, or planning on this tax before it was passed,” said Noonan, who also spoke on behalf of Wade Friesen of The Sleepy Owl and Bryce Campbell of the Copper River Inn here.
“I feel the risk of this tax outweighs the potential benefits and I am worried that instead of bringing more people to Fort Frances, it will deter them,” she added.
Noonan said she and others still have many questions and concerns, ranging from why are these monies are needed to how will the success of this tax be measured to how will the customer base accept this tax and what say will local accommodation businesses have in how these monies are spent?
“I think we're in a unique position and it's hard to compare us to other communities where they're not on the U.S. border,” Noonan noted.
“They don't have outlying communities that offer accommodation.”
But the new council is not able to stop the new tax from taking effect Jan. 1.
On Sept. 24, the majority of the former mayor and council voted in favour of adopting the new tax. Then on Nov. 13, a bylaw was passed to establish the tax and implement it Jan. 1, 2019.
Town clerk Lisa Slomke explained that in order for the new council to defeat a bylaw, it would have to pass another bylaw and none was prepared for last night's meeting.
Additionally, a member of council who voted for the prevailing side must move to reconsider the matter.
Someone else must second it and then the majority of council must agree to it, added Slomke.
However, the only two members of council from the former lineup—Mayor June Caul and Coun. Wendy Brunetta—voted against the MAT not because they didn't support it but because they felt the local hospitality industry needed more time to get everything in order for Jan. 1.
Economic development consultant Tannis Drysdale noted a committee, which will include hotel and motel owners, will be struck in the near future.
This committee will help oversee how tax revenue will be spent on tourism marketing.
Last year's provincial budget provided municipalities with a new tool to support tourism development and marketing through the Transient Accommodation Regulation 435/17, which allows municipalities to impose a MAT.
The MAT came as a recommendation from the town's Economic Development Advisory Committee as a tool to generate new revenue for the community.
The tax will be applied on all accommodations that are less than 30 days in the Town of Fort Frances, including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, resorts, outposts, AirBNBs, and tent and trailer sites.
The town has estimated the new tax would generate at least $300,000 a year, with half of the revenue going to tourism marketing, such as Rainy Lake Square programming, running the Fort Frances Tourism Information Centre, wayfinding signage, and marketing and promotion.
The other half would go towards infrastructure and development, such as beautification, a fund to assist small festivals, sporting tournaments and events, studies, and reports related to tourism development, the Rainy Lake Square, parks and waterfront development, the Shevlin wood yard economic development feasibility study, and beautification projects.
In related news, council held a public meeting last night to garner input on the 2019 budget.
Council heard a presentation from local resident Merv Ahrens, who suggested town council include focus on a “safer and greener” future in its 2019 budget.
This would include improvements to pedestrian safety, and the removal of old trees and the planting of news ones.
Council also received two written 2019 budget requests—one from Dave Coats regarding continued funding for July 1 fireworks and another from north-end resident Amy Marchuk requesting road upgrades to Elizabeth Street West and York Avenue North (from Fifth Street West to Sixth Street West).
Also at last night's meeting, council:
- approved per diem claims, in the amount of $240 each, for Coun. Wendy Brunetta and former councillor Ken Perry for their attendance at the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association meeting held Nov. 27-28 in Thunder Bay;
- approved per diem claims, each in the amount of $400, for Couns. Brunetta, Michael Behan, and John McTaggart for their attendance at the council orientation session held Nov. 21-23;
- approved a per diem claim, in the amount of $320, for Coun. Andrew Hallikas for his attendance at the council orientation session on Nov. 21-23;
- passed a bylaw to authorize the execution of a site plan control agreement as a condition of development with Good Day Wholesalers (Crozier);
- passed a bylaw to authorize participation in the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System with respect to councillors; and
- passed a bylaw for purpose of fixing remuneration and benefits for elected officials.