Budget picture looking rosier

Duane Hicks

The outlook for the Town of Fort Frances’ 2018 budget is looking much more rosier than at this time last year.
While the budget process is not done yet, the current 2018 operating budget indicates a deficit of just $8,578 due to a decrease in education tax this year.
The budget also has benefitted from an increased tax base, deputy treasurer Dawn Galusha explained after yesterday afternoon’s budget meeting.
Galusha noted a comparison between the town’s overall assessment in 2017 compared to this year shows a roughly $15-million increase.
“That’s why this year isn’t so hard,” she remarked, further explaining the assessment increase is the result not only of reassessment of existing properties but new assessment from recent property developments (such as new homes in Huffman Court or other building projects).
“We’re better off this year than we were last year as far as assessment is concerned,” agreed deputy mayor Ken Perry, referring to the fact the town saw a nearly $13-million loss of assessment in commercial and residential properties here last year.
“Assessment last year went down so bad, it put us into a different frame of mind, actually,” he added.
Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown credited mayor and council’s advocacy of the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. last year to be more up-to-date with tracking assessment here, as well an increase in the tax base, to this year’s rosier financial picture.
“We had 140 building permits [in 2017],” Brown noted. “Every time we get a building permit now, they’re tracking that now.
“That assessment is going up in your community.”
The amount of $8,578, while low, does not necessarily mean no one’s taxes will be going up this year.
In simplest terms, those properties that went up in assessment last year will go up again this year as part of a four-year phase-in while those that had a reduction last year will see their taxes stay the same or go down slightly.
Budget requests
Meanwhile, council considered several budget requests made by local groups in the fall and gave most of them the “green light” at yesterday’s meeting.
They agreed to give the Canada Day fireworks display $7,500 this year–the same amount as last year.
Councillors agreed an increase from $5,000 to $7,500 was necessary last year not only to put on a spectacular display for “Canada 150” but because the cost of pyrotechnics had gone up and the amount the town had been contributing had not increased in many years.
Similarly, council will give the “Fun in the Sun” committee $2,500 this year for its Canada Day celebrations.
This amount is a $500 increase from last year but not the $5,000 requested in a letter from the committee.
While council unanimously felt the FITS committee did a terrific job resurrecting Canada Day activities here, they also agreed a jump to $5,000 was a bit steep.
However, Brown noted the FITS committee can apply for Moffat Family Fund dollars just like it successfully did last year.
He added the town is getting $5,000 more to give out this year, meaning a total of $60,000 will dispersed among successful Moffat Family Fund applicants later this year.
Council also decided to boost the amount given to “Meals on Wheels” from $19,000 to $22,000, as requested by the organization.
This amount has not gone up since 2014, and council all agreed “Meals on Wheels” is a highly-valued program.
As well, council agreed to give the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce $2,833 as a fee-for-service for tourism marketing. This is the same amount as the town granted the Chamber last year.
The Chamber had requested $5,000 this year.
Coun. Paul Ryan said if the town wasn’t already funding the tourist information centre, he might take another look at the request.
“It almost seems to me like there’s a double-service here, providing the same thing from two ends,” he noted.
But council decided to table a request from the Fort Frances Museum Advisory Committee regarding the hiring of a full-time museum assistant at an estimated cost of about $30,000, and will wait until their next budget meeting (March 19).
On the one hand, council reasoned the museum already is being bolstered this year (it has received a grant to hire an intern for a one-year term, with that intern starting next month).
The museum also could have a Dutch intern coming to work here if everything works out immigration-wise.
On the other hand, museum curator Sherry George is considering retirement in the next 18 months, and having a full-time assistant on board now would help make that transition to a new curator smoother (i.e., the assistant could be trained to be George’s successor).
In regards to the latter, the decision would be not only whether to hire a full-time museum assistant but whether that should take place this year or wait for the 2019 budget process.
However, since both Coun. Doug Kitowski and Mayor Roy Avis were not in attendance at yesterday’s budget meeting, the remaining council members decided to wait until all of the council is present to discuss the matter.