Delegates voice myriad of topics at conference
The vacant Rainy Lake Hotel, dam funding, and forest tenure were among the topics local delegates discussed with ministers and parliamentary assistants last week during the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities Ontario in London.
Mayor Roy Avis, who attended the conference with Coun. Paul Ryan and Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, said the highlight was a meeting with Northern Development and Mines minister Michael Gravelle, who informed them the town would be getting $997,500 to help demolish the old Rainy Lake Hotel and redevelop the property into the Rainy Lake Market Square.
“Our next move now is to get FedNor to support this project,” added Mayor Avis.
“That would mean the project would be able to move forward.”
As first reported last week, the town is hoping to get $650,000 from FedNor.
The town and local BIA together will be contributing about $300,000 in real and in-kind expenditures.
Mayor Avis said the overwhelming majority of the feedback he’s heard about the Rainy Lake Market Square project being a step closer to reality has been positive.
“They’re glad it’s happening now,” he remarked. “They ask, ‘When are you going to start?’
“[The vacant hotel] is a problem,” the mayor stressed. “It stinks as you walk by, it’s falling down.
“If you’ve noticed, we’ve taken all the superstructure on the outside off the front because it was all rotten and ready to fall—we were scared people were going to get hurt,” he said.
“It has to [be demolished] sooner than later.”
Local delegates also spoke to Laura Albanese, parliamentary assistant to Finance minister Charles Sousa, regarding the proposed reduction of payments under the Power Dam Special Payment Program, as per the 2014 Ontario budget.
Mayor Avis said they made it clear Fort Frances is among the 100 or so Ontario municipalities unhappy with the reductions.
Earlier this month, town council passed a resolution to the provincial government in an effort to reverse the decision to decrease the funding.
The annual payment for the hydro-electric generating station here, provided by the province, is set to remain at the 2012 level of $350,807.05 for the 2013 and 2014 taxation years.
But with the Power Dam Payment Program being reduced to $14.3 million, the town is set to lose nearly $85,000 on an annual basis by 2017.
“It seems that with all these clawbacks that are coming from the ministry, there’s nothing replacing them,” said Mayor Avis.
“The only way you’re going to replace them is with taxpayers’ dollars.”
This problem is compounded with reductions to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), which seems to decrease every year.
“We have no place to go,” Mayor Avis stressed.
“There’s only three places we can get money—taxation, user fees, or government grants—and as these grants decrease, it’s more of a burden on taxation and user fees.”
They also spoke with Albanese about a tax agreement the town is working to establish with Resolute Forest Products to address the decreasing assessment at the mill here.
The delegates also met with Transportation minister Steven Del Duca regarding funding for the major roads in town.
While the town used to get 90 percent “Connecting Link” funding to pay for infrastructure work on roads such as King’s Highway, Colonization Road East, Scott Street, and Central Avenue, this funding has gone away.
This leaves the town having to pay to maintain these routes, said Mayor Avis.
“If you take a look at Fort Frances, we’re the hub of Northwestern Ontario from the U.S.,” he remarked, adding province is expecting local taxpayers to pick up the load to maintain the roads for all of Northwestern Ontario.
Mayor Avis noted big trucks from elsewhere “are pounding our roads and we’re getting no support from the government.”
Meanwhile, the need for a resident judge here was the topic when delegates met with the Attorney General’s Office.
They presented a great deal of information from the local law society and stressed that Fort Frances, along with all the other district municipalities and First Nations, feel strongly that there should be a resident judge here.
The delegates also met with Natural Resources and Forestry minister Bill Mauro to discuss forest tenure and the management of the Crossroute Forest.
With support from all of the municipalities in the west end of the district, the trio voiced concern over where the wood supply is going at the present time.
“We presented to the minister the need to get forest tenure, to get Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licensing on the move, and get it sooner than later,” said Mayor Avis.
He noted Ainsworth isn’t getting wood at a proper cost and not enough of it, and the wood which used to go the mill here is now going to Thunder Bay.
The mayor said the Crossroute Forest should be managed with input by First Nations, Fort Frances, and other municipalities in the west end of the district, as well as businesses that require wood to operate, and a corporation should be formed to look at that.
“So we were putting that forward,” he remarked. “We’d like to see that on the table.”
Last but not least, the delegates met with Lou Rinaldi, parliamentary assistant to Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Ted McMeekin, about funding to help pay for costs incurred by the town during this summer’s high water situation.
Mayor Avis said the town gave Rinaldi an estimate of how much work the town did—estimated at $1.9 million—and is hopeful the ministry can help out.