Budget could be final in two weeks: mayor

Mayor Dan Onichuk said Tuesday it could take town council about two more weeks before it passes the final version of the 2004 budget.
“We were hopeful we could have things resolved by March 31, but there’s several things to consider,” he remarked.
The mayor expected council would set dates for a series of future budget meetings, including those to get public input, at a special committee of the whole meeting that happened at noon Wednesday.
These matters to consider include information from BDO Dunwoody regarding what the town should do about paying for a deficit stemming from the River Walk Condominiums.
“Right now, we know if we sold all seven remaining units, we’d have to pay $160,000,” he noted, referring to the fact the town, through the Fort Frances Non-Profit Housing Corp., has been paying for the regular bills such as heat and maintenance on the unsold units since they went on the market.
This amount potentially could reach $200,000 by the time all the units are sold, added the mayor. The previous council already set aside $60,000 to help pay for this deficit in 2003.
Another factor is a change in the levy for Rainycrest Home for the Aged this June. Mayor Onichuk attended a meeting regarding this Tuesday, and was slated to attend another one Wednesday morning along with the rest of council.
The Rainycrest levy currently is set at 12 percent higher than it was in 2003, but that may increase or decrease depending on whether Rainycrest expects to get more beds in the near future.
Mayor Onichuk noted there also is some ongoing personnel negotiations that will affect the 2004 budget, as well as “other considerations” still being made by council.
While it was revealed at a meeting last Wednesday that Fort Frances residents currently are facing a 15.25 percent property tax increase for 2004, this number may increase after council gets the information it needs regarding the matters mentioned above.
“Once we find that out, it is a matter of deciding whether we want to pass that on to the taxpayer or start making cuts to services,” said Mayor Onichuk.
But other aspects of the budget seem to be moving forward. For instance, the new user fee schedule was on the agenda for today’s meeting at noon, with council expected to give the bylaw third reading and then pass it.
This will see an average cost increase of 20-25 percent for many services, including landfill tipping fees, water and sewer rates, day care fees, ice rentals, and much more.
While some of these fees, such as pool rentals, have been artificially low for some time and needed to be adjusted to be in line with other communities, others—such as water and sewer rates—have been mandated by the province to see a higher rate of cost recovery, so that the utility can, in effect, pay for itself (and thus be maintained and properly functioning).
“With water and sewer, for instance, we’re raising it to reflect the true cost of operating a utility,” stressed Mayor Onichuk. “It’s not about generating revenue for us. That’s the cost to produce treated water, and maintain water and sewer lines.”
It also looks like town residents will be paying $1 a bag to have their garbage picked up starting later this spring after council agreed to include it as part of the 2004 budget during a special meeting last Wednesday.
While the bylaw to implement “bag tags” effective May 31 has not been finalized, and won’t come before council for a vote at least until the 2004 budget has been finalized, council took a “straw vote” to see if they agreed to implement “bag tags,” which are a key component of the budget.
Mayor Onichuk and Couns. Roy Avis, Tannis Drysdale, Todd Hamilton, Neil Kabel, and Rick Wiedenhoeft voted in favour of implementing the “bag tag” system. Coun. Struchan Gilson stood alone against it.
Besides taking a vote to agree on “bag tags” in principle, council also had to choose whether residents would:
•get five introductory bag tags when the program is implemented, then have to pay $1/bag thereafter;
•get 30 free tags when the program begins, and then 52 at the beginning of each year thereafter, and pay $1 per tag for any needed on top of those; or
•get 30 free tags, and then 52 a year thereafter, but pay $1.50 per tag for any above that.
Mayor Onichuk and Coun. Wiedenhoeft voted in favour of option three while the rest of council voted in favour of option one.
Option one is expected to bring in $120,000 in revenue in 2004 and $252,000 in subsequent years.
Without “bag tags” at all, taxpayers likely would see an increase of three-four percent.
At least one public meeting is expected to be held in May, prior to council voting on the bylaw to implement the new system May 31.
This meeting will not be to get the public’ input, however, but to inform them of how the “bag tag” system will work.