Fort Frances taxpayers are grumbling over the recently announced two per cent tax increase, and for good reason. Despite council’s proclamation that largely just homeowners will be impacted, and that the increase is modest, it’s a blow to every resident. Renters pay taxes – increased costs to landlords are passed on through rent increases, or reduced building repairs. Tax increases disproportionately impact those on fixed or modest incomes – particularly seniors. Many are living in their homes longer than they would like, due to few downsizing options, such as low income and senior apartments. Even a modest increase could force difficult financial decisions for these vulnerable residents.
The blame isn’t entirely on council. They were forced to navigate a difficult situation, while striking a balance between staff recommendations and voter demands. Perhaps what’s needed is a shift in mindset, to rethink what’s really important to us, and be open to a lower level of service for the things that aren’t. In turn, the town could be more open to new approaches. Community involvement is one way other municipalities have trimmed costs. Many residents were eager to help maintain the cemeteries last summer; officials were leery, because it could undermine unionized labour. But volunteers aren’t a threat – they could free the unionized crew to do more important work. The Emo splash pad is a perfect example of what’s possible. It’s a source of envy for many in Fort Frances, but it wasn’t built by Emo council – it’s largely the sweat equity of volunteers and donations.
Fortunately for taxpayers, they hold the power. Lower taxes next year starts with conversations now, but council relies on input from the public – this year’s budget consultation meeting saw only one delegation. If residents want change, it’s their responsibility to ask for it. Council meetings may not be in person, but they’re still public, and can be accessed through online and call-in platforms. By joining the conversation now, residents have the power to shape the agenda going forward. – Megan Walchuk