Bus issue on track to go to voters

After being plagued by the issue for more than a year, town councillors appear ready to let voters decide whether they are in favour of resurrecting a municipally-run and funded bus service in Fort Frances.
At the request of the Northern Action Group, council passed a resolution Monday night to include the question in conjunction with the municipal election Nov. 10.
Council must now pass a bylaw at its next regular meeting Sept. 22 for the question to be on the ballot.
Only Coun. George Blanc voted against the resolution Monday night—despite suggesting it might be time to put the question to the public.
He also said he was “tired of being nagged” on this issue.
Couns. Deane Cunningham, Sharon Tibbs, Neil Kabel, and Bill Martin voted in favour of the resolution while Coun. Bruce Armstrong was absent from the meeting.
“It’s just been hanging on and hanging on,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said in explaining why council went this route.
“Are we going to hand this to another council to deal with?” Coun. Sharon Tibbs asked councillors Monday.
Mayor Witherspoon said the present system—a ride-share program subsidized 50 percent by the town—would save taxpayers between $100,000-150,000 each year, especially with provincial grants being cut.
But councillors still stand united behind their decision to cut the bus service and sell the buses in the first place, stressing it was a financial and managerial decision.
And they were confident the “silent majority” would speak out loud and clear at election time and back their decision.
But NAG argued voters here want a bus service back, resulting results from a mock ballot held last week that showed 87.2 percent of Fort Frances taxpayers are in favour of a municipally funded and run bus service here.
And if the matter was placed on the ballot in November, it claimed the same results would be accurate—within one percentage point–19 times out of 20.
Voting by secret ballot took place Friday in all the seniors’ residences and on the street downtown, and at the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market on Saturday.
Of those polled, NAG reported 1,389 voted yes, 196 voted no, and seven ballots were spoiled. The ballots were counted by Pastor Earl Swanson.
“It shows that the bus is needed [and] wanted,” NAG president Sybil Mowe concluded Monday.
Mowe said they decided to go this route because NAG wanted the question put on the municipal election ballot but felt their request was being dismissed by town council.
“And we wanted to see where we stood,” she added.
Mowe referred further questions about the vote to Allan Bedard, spokesperson for the bus coalition, but he did not return two messages left on his answering machine.
Mayor Witherspoon admitted to the committee of the whole prior to Monday’s council meeting that he questioned the validity of NAG’s vote.