Council tackling 2006 budget

With $1.37 million of its capital budget currently unfunded, town council and management are having to take a hard look at what should stay and go in the 2006 budget.
At its most recent budget meeting Monday afternoon, the committee of the whole started to go through a priorized list from the Operations and Facilities division, with all the capital purchases from that department ranked from most wanted to least.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown said the highest-ranked item on the list is a backhoe, for which the town already awarded the tender at its Dec. 12 meeting.
The lowest was playground equipment at Pither’s Point Park.
Other high-ranking items included:
•GIS equipment and a fly-over of the town for mapping purposes;
•upgrades to the Public Works offices (these haven’t been renovated in 15 years and is serving a central location for division staff);
•Portage Avenue underpass (pending COMRIF funding);
•Phase One of paving on Central Avenue;
•a coverall building for recyclables and sand;
•several half- and three-quarter ton vehicles; and
•computer equipment.
Coun. Roy Avis said council should consider what can wait until next year, what has to be done in 2006, and what purchases are worth long-term debt.
Mayor Dan Onichuk noted council really should wait to see a more accurate picture of the town’s operating budget before making too many cuts, especially since some of the items on the chopping block were projects council had committed to—such as the playground equipment at Pither’s Point Park.
By the meeting’s end, no cuts were made to the capital budget as councillors agreed they should wait to get more numbers for the operating budget before doing so.
This means waiting for more information on “uncontrollables,” such as levies from Rainycrest Home for the Aged and Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, as well as assessment rolls from the Municipal Assessment Corp.
The committee of the whole will have another special budget meeting Jan. 16, at which time the town hopefully will have more of these figures.
< *c>Sewer, water rates
There also was some talk of sewer and water rate increases at Monday’s meeting, but there’s no clear direction as to which way council will go in the year ahead.
Coun. Avis noted he felt there should be some adjustments made to how much some commercial users pay versus others.
But Brown said the problem with that is the mill is among those commercial customers, and if the town gives “the little guy a break,” the mill will have to pay more.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the apportionments between classes could be adjusted, but not those within them.
Mayor Onichuk noted the town hired a consultant to determine a “lifecycle” costing schedule for the town last year—and now should be the time to move forward with it.
But he added council cannot make another “blanket, unfair increase” like it did last year, when both residential and commercial customers faced an across-the-board 10 percent hike—especially when residential customers are subsidizing commercial ones.
Brown said Bill 175 has been passed, but experts he’s talked to feel the political climate is not right for the province to actually put the regulations in place to ensure municipalities implement full cost recovery plans.
Mayor Onichuk said he felt that if the town starts looking ahead with its “lifecycle” costing schedule now, and is proactive, it will be financially off to a good start when the new regulations do take effect.
However, he noted the impact of the fee hikes on customers should be lessened, with the town phasing in the fee schedule over 15 years, as opposed to five or 10.