Council expands temporary exemptions to user fee increase

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

When user fees increase for many in Fort Frances come next year, more groups who are already locked into their plans for a season may see some temporary exemptions.

During Monday night’s meeting of the Town of Fort Frances Council, a report outlining the proposed changes to the 2023 user fees for residents of the town of Fort Frances was presented, with many different areas of public service seeing an increase in the cost associated with accessing said services. Through previous discussions amongst council and administration, the town is preparing to implement a 5.9 percent increase to its user fees, which will impact prices for things like building permits, hall rentals and ice time.

However, cognizant of the rising costs of living, as well as the many different groups who are midway through a season, council has listed a number of exceptions for the user fee increase in order to allow select groups to finish out their year at the current user fee cost. Those groups will begin paying the new user fees to coincide with their next season.

While a majority of these exceptions have to do with sports groups who are renting ice at the Memorial Sports Centre, Councillor Mike Behan noted during the meeting that he felt an additional group should have been considered.

“I want to say that I definitely agree with some of the exceptions that we have outlined in the report moving forward, more specifically holding membership rates steady in 2023 due to some reduced services being offered due to other circumstances,” Behan said.

“And I certainly agree with delaying a fee increase for user groups until after their current season is completed, and that’s where this stems from. I was thinking Tour de Fort should also be included in that, given that their season is 2022-2023. They still have four shows left in 2023. While it’s not a lot dollar-wise, I think the principle of the matter is that they should be treated equally with the other user groups at the Memorial Sports Centre.”

According to documents provided to council as part of the meeting agenda, the current costs associated with a one-night event put on by a charitable non-profit or music festival include a “set-up and rehearsal” charge of $160.89, and a “first show in run” charge of $315.66 with an additional $1.50 surcharge. With the new 5.9 percent user fee increase taken into account, those same fees will rise to $170.40 and $334.29, respectively.

Fort Frances Mayor Andrew Hallikas and Councillor Wendy Brunetta both agreed with Behan’s suggestion, motioning to have Tour de Fort included as an exception to the user fee increase for the duration of their current season.

Brunetta also raised the possibility of re-implementing out of town user fees in future updates to the town’s fee structure.

“I believe it was in 2018 or 2019 that we removed non-resident user fees from our schedule of fees, and the reason behind it at that time was because it was stated that we would probably see an increase in revenue by attracting people from outside of the community to use our facilities and our library and the like,” Brunetta noted.

“I was opposed to that at the time and I was wondering if there would be some way that we could see if that in fact did occur. I know it’s been two years of COVID, so that throws a wrench into it. I would just like to know if, in fact, that did come to fruition. I believe our facilities are highly subsidized by our taxpayers, and that they should really get a break on user fees. So charging non-residents a little bit more would be something I would be interested in maybe re-instating if we haven’t seen the impact that we suspected we would come forward.”