Town asking Watten for 9-1-1 money

A group of Watten residents is scrambling to collect dollars from property owners there to pay off the $3,252 bill the unincorporated township owes for the enhanced 9-1-1 emergency service.
But the problem is the group has no way to make people pay–and the bill, which was due in January, is accumulating service charges as each month goes by.
Fort Frances council this week referred the unpaid bill to the Administration and Finance executive committee for a recommendation.
Carol Lyons, who joined Jim McQuarrie and Peter West in requesting $20 from some 400 residences with telephones there to cover the bill, said the community opted for the service, with Bell Canada tacking an extra 30 cents a month on the phone bill.
Property owners also had to shell out $50 for new fire numbers.
But when the town took over the 9-1-1 dispatch service and moved it to La Verendrye hospital, Lyons noted Watten received a “whopping” bill it wasn’t expecting for its share of the move.
“We didn’t have any idea when we signed up for this that there would be this dispatch. We didn’t really anticipate this cost,” Lyons argued.
“Part of their dilemma [is] that they don’t have the right to tax,” noted Fort Frances CAO Bill Naturkach.
Lyons agreed, noting the $20 charge–which they expect will pay the outstanding bill and cover 9-1-1 costs for the next three years–is a purely voluntary payment.
And so far, the township has come up with about $1,500 of the anticipated $8,000.
“We haven’t collected very much,” Lyons admitted. “But there’s not much we can do because it’s not a tax.”
The town did enter an agreement with the Watten Fire Protection Team in 1992 to provide the 9-1-1 service. That agreement, signed by then Fire Chief Gerald Hoffman and then Deputy Chief B. Martin, saw the Watten Fire Protection Team accept responsibility for a pro rata share of installation and annual maintenance costs.
But in a letter dated July 17 to Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, current Fire Chief Douglas LeBlanc noted the fire department wouldn’t be responsible for the annual charge.
Instead, he referred the town to the “Watten Township 911 System Committee.”
“I can understand that because they have no way of collecting money from people,” Lyons noted, stressing the fire department had their own items to pay for.
While the money is coming in slowly, Lyons was optimistic they would be able to pay the bill this summer. She said some property owners may not have received the $20 request yet because it went out with the roads boards’ bills.
Meanwhile, Mayor Glenn Witherspoon didn’t want to speculate on whether Watten would be cut off from the 9-1-1 service if the bill wasn’t paid up.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he noted Monday.
Lyons hoped the town wouldn’t cut Watten off from the service, noting then it would never get the money and the others would have to absorb the cost.
“Eventually the money will come in,” she said.