Council eyeing cuts to services
With the town still looking to balance its 2013 budget, mayor and council started to talk of service cuts and increasing user fees at Monday’s budget meeting.
As of Monday, the town’s operating budget showed a deficit of $1,769,668, of which $1,188,640 is the retroactive amount the town must repay to Resolute after the recent reassessment agreement regarding its mill property here.
Council now will continue to look at reducing this amount in order to soften the impact on taxpayers, with various members saying Monday that they will be reviewing the town’s “soft services,” such as the airport, museum, and library, to find savings.
“I think we have to concentrate on the things that have to be done—sewer and water, roads—things we really, really need in this town,” said Coun. Ken Perry.
“And if we don’t start doing [this] a little more effectively and at a higher level, we’re just going to be in worse and worse shape all the time,” he stressed.
Coun. Perry said council has to address services this year and if it doesn’t do something now, they’re going to be in the same position next year.
He added that with recent changes to the mill’s operations here (i.e., idling the kraft mill and one paper machine), Resolute is bound to seek further reassessment of its property.
“We’re at the tip of the iceberg with this,” Coun. Perry warned.
He reasoned if the town most recently took a 25 percent hit on reassessment due to one paper machine being shut down two-and-a-half years ago, with a second paper machine and kraft mill down now, the reassessed value in the future will dip drastically and put the town in a more dire position, such as Dryden or Upsala.
Coun. Perry said the town currently offers good essential and soft services, but the problem is the town has been “doing it too well.”
Citing recent examples he’s come across, not only is the town’s snow removal program better than in Kenora and other communities, but the town has 18.5 police officers on contract for 7,800 people (compared to 11.5 for 9,300 in the Town of Penetanguishene), it’s cheaper to rent the arena here than in Thunder Bay, and the Thunder Bay Public Library is not open Sundays but the one here is.
Coun. Perry said council can’t charge more for water and sewer and roads, as well as sidewalks and snow plowing and garbage, until they cut things like the airport, library, museum, recreation, fire, police, and social services first.
“Some are going to be a little bit harder to do, but we can do it,” he added.
Mayor Roy Avis said that while the town should be careful about reducing essential services, such as taking care of road and sidewalks, he agreed soft services like the airport, marina, library, and museum should be looked at.
Coun. Paul Ryan also said council should look at soft services, including the airport, for savings.
“I think that we should really look into charging people using our airport to fly out air patients and stuff so much a head if you don’t live in town,” he noted.
“We’ve been subsidizing the district on that airport for the last two, three, four decades since Transport Canada threw it in our lap,” added Coun. Ryan.
“We can’t be subsidizing the district any more.”
He noted administration should talk to the ambulance service or hospital about a billing system to collect for the 50 or so medical flights a month at possibly $300 per flight.
On the other hand, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said it may be premature to talk about service levels at this time.
“I think that we may have to cut service levels but I’d like to look at other ways of creating efficiencies, eliminating some of that operational deficit, before we look at service levels,” he stressed.
“To me, that should be the last thing we look at.”
Community Services manager Jason Kabel said while it is only natural that council turn to reviewing soft services, he added they keep in mind these are as important as essential services.
“Without these ‘soft’ services, your people don’t want to be here, you’re taking the quality of life away from the community,” he warned.
Council also will look at increasing user fees, especially for non-residents.
While the 2013 user fee schedule already has been passed, it always can be amended.
Mayor Avis suggested that in times like these, maybe the town will have to “share the pain” with non-resident users of town services.
He also mentioned that although for years he has opposed getting rid of the “free” bag of garbage, it might be time to consider requiring bag tags on each and every bag.
Council made no decisions regarding service cuts or user fees Monday, but is expected to discuss these issues further at its next budget meeting March 13.
At this time, treasurer Laurie Witherspoon also will bring forth numbers as to how much any potential tax increases will affect the various tax classes.