Economic development high priority: mayor

Economic development will be one of the major focuses for the Town of Fort Frances in 2008, according to Mayor Roy Avis, and that area may get a much-needed boost if town council decides to allocate an extra $50,000 to it in this year’s budget.
“Right now, we pay a per capita fee to the Rainy River Future Development Corp. to run the town’s economic development,” Mayor Avis noted yesterday, explaining that at $7 per capita, this equals about $51,000 right now.
“We’re looking at expanding that by adding $50,000 to our budget,” he added. “If we add $50,000 to our budget, then that would trigger, through Fed Nor, another $50,000 when we work on certain projects.
“So in reality, $50,000 turns to $100,000.”
The funding increase was brought up at Monday afternoon’s budget meeting, at which time the mayor explained the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) has been somewhat frustrated by a lack of budget, and consequent lack of voice, in a town where there’s so different local business-related initiatives going on with no common focus.
Mayor Avis noted some other municipalities in Northwestern Ontario, such as Dryden, have established commissions to handle their respective economic development duties.
“There’s been thought given to forming a commission or working through EDAC, in conjunction with the Rainy River Future Development Corp., but we haven’t really got to that point yet,” the mayor said.
“We’re just trying to get our budget dollars put in place first,” he added, explaining a commission would be somewhat like the current EDAC but “with a little more power.”
RRFDC economic development officer Geoff Gillon, who already has spoken to the Administration and Finance executive committee, will make a presentation to council at its next budget meeting on Monday, Jan. 21.
Whether or not the additional funds go into the 2008 budget will be a decision of council, but Mayor Avis said he felt “council has to consider going down a different path to economic development.”
“That means the path we go down could be hiring our own officer, forming a commission, or working with the RRFDC, but I think we have to be more active in that area,” he remarked.
“What we’re doing is trying to get our budget in place to establish the preliminaries and then, at that point, we can take it to the next step.”
< *c>Free tipping
Another new budget item of interest to residents is a free tipping day at the local landfill.
Mayor Avis said he and other councillors often receive complaints about some local properties being eyesores, and so giving all residents one free load at the dump to use this year may encourage them to clean up their yards.
He suggested the one-time free tipping pass could be sent out to property owners in the mail, and be usable anytime throughout the year so they could use it at their convenience.
This would differ from the free tipping day the town normally holds in that it would apply to all garbage, not just yard waste.
“If we’re proactive, maybe it could stimulate more people to be concerned,” said Mayor Avis.
This budget item will be discussed more at the Jan. 21 meeting.
< *c>Other business
With 2007 being a very busy year for projects getting started in Fort Frances, Mayor Avis said the stage is set for many of those initiatives to come to fruition.
One example is the AbitibiBowater bio-mass boiler, which is expected to be operational sometime this fall.
“With the bio-mass plant being built, and just with the community in general, we’re very optimistic it’s going to be a good economic year for the community,” said the mayor.
He also is looking forward to the beginning of construction of the new Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre at the corner of Reid Avenue and Second Street East.
“It’s going to be a real asset to us when it gets up and running. I’m sure it’s going to be moving ahead this summer,” he noted.
“We’ve had some good contributions from the community,” he added. “We’ve received the majority of the funding from the government, and we have applied for other funding that hasn’t been received yet.”
The mayor also urged residents to contribute, if possible, to the “Building for the Future” campaign. All financial contributions are eligible for a tax receipt.
Mayor Avis also noted the museum renovations were completed on time and within budget last year.
“We’re looking at Phase Two of the heritage tourism plan for this year, but to get into specifics, it’s a little bit too early at the present time,” he remarked.
Mayor Avis also noted council’s First Nations Advisory Committee has been working towards a new agreement for the provision of sewer and water services to Couchiching First Nation.
As well, the committee has been actively consulting with the four bands from Agency One in the interests of resolving issues surrounding Pither’s Point Park, the two-chain shore allowance, and roads in the vicinity.
Tying into this is the future of the government dock at Pither’s Point.
While it was identified last year that the dock has fallen into disrepair in recent years, and will cost $770,000 to repair, $1.5 million to replace, and $295,000 to remove, Mayor Avis explained why there hasn’t been much discussion about it.
“That dock is part of a land claim and that land claim is moving down the path of settlement within the next year,” he noted. “There hasn’t been anything done to that dock at this time because there is a question of ownership of that land.”
As far as local construction projects, the Portage Avenue underpass repairs will resume this spring and be completed by fall.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the Central Avenue water and sewer rehabilitation will start this spring, seeing Central Avenue rebuilt from First Street north to a short distance past the intersection both to the west and north.
As well, construction of Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ youth detention facility is slated for later this year, with completion projected in early 2009.
While the mayor acknowledged some residents find this new facility “controversial,” it will be an asset to the town, with economic spin-offs—not the least of which will be 20 full-time and 10 part-time jobs.