Individuals living outside of Fort Frances will have a reduced financial burden when using the town's facilities in 2020.
Following a 5-2 vote, council passed a motion to eliminate non-resident user fees on a one-year trial basis.
It is hoped that through the elimination of non-resident user fees, more people will come to town and there will be an increase in memberships at the Memorial Sports Centre.
“It eliminates a large potential barrier for people outside of the Town of Fort Frances from using our facility,” said Aaron Bisson, manager of recreation and culture.
“We want to be an inclusive community and this is a step in the right direction.”
If there is an addition of eight adult equivalent memberships at the Memorial Sports Centre it will offset the cost of removing the non-resident fees this year, Bisson noted.
At that point, any additional memberships will lessen the burden on taxpayers and reduce the amount of public funds needed to operate the sports centre.
Although, in a worse case scenario where non-resident user memberships decline or stagnate, the financial cost to taxpayers wouldn't be significant.
Bison said there's been substantial positive feedback in regards to eliminating non-resident fees and by this time next year the town will know if it was the right approach.
Coun. John McTaggart, who voted against the motion, said he's concerned about the elimination of non-resident fees in 2020.
“I believe that there's a need for a premium if you're not a ratepayer,” he remarked.
“I've done some math and the cost of not only the Memorial Sports Centre but all of our recreation facilities is about $295 per household and that's a lot of money for some folks who are just making ends meet,” Coun. McTaggart added.
“For us to allow people to use the facility that aren't taxpayers seems unfair.”
Coun. Wendy Brunetta also voted against the motion, noting she's worried this could be the starting point of other non-resident fees being eliminated.
“I don't pay as much as people who don't pay taxes in my community, so I just really think there's a reason for putting a non-resident fee in and I support it as a taxpayer and I think a lot of other taxpayers do,” she noted.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas, community services executive committee member, said while it may seem counterintuitive to want to reduce non-resident user fees, the committee has observed that as non-resident fees increase, usage declines.
“The idea is if we can get more people coming into town to use our facilities, especially at the arena complex where they'll spend some time, they very likely will also spend some time elsewhere at restaurants, shopping and so forth,” he explained.
“This fits in very well with our strategic plan here—we want to make Fort Frances a destination, a welcoming place.”
Fellow committee member, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, noted that he was somewhat reluctant to support the elimination of non-user fees.
He said he doesn't believe that the loss in revenue from neutralizing the non-resident rate will be equalized by new members from outside the town.
“I hope I am wrong because if we do generate more memberships and it generates more revenue then that saves the taxpayers money and that's what we're all about,” he remarked.
“However, this is a one-year trial and at the end of that year, if the data does not support the premise, I will certainly move to reinstate the non-resident user fees.”
Mayor June Caul said she approves of the move by council and believes it's worth trying for the year.
“I don't think it's a loss or a gain in any way—other than finding out whether or not it will be a better way to welcome people into our community . . . and lessen the burden for our taxpayers in 2021,” she reasoned.
Meanwhile, community services executive committee member Coun. Mike Behan said he supports the motion's rationale as a way of saving ratepayers money.
“That's the plan, that's the hope, that's the aim,” he remarked.
“I can't guarantee it—that's why we're doing a one-year trial basis on this—but I really think if we reduce this one, we'll find a way to get more revenue and that's the bottom line,”
The 2020 user fees will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.