Council eyeing 2% hike for most user fees

Duane Hicks

While the 2010 user fee schedule will not be voted on until a Dec. 21 meeting, town council agreed Monday that most user fees likely will see a two percent jump.
The two percent hike affects 400-plus services provided by the town, ranging from building permits and marriage licences to taxi cab licences and public hall rentals.
Treasurer Laurie Witherspoon explained the two percent increase is based on the Consumer Price Index, which increased 1.8 percent between October, 2008 and October, 2009.
“I think a two percent raise across the board is reasonable and logical,” said Coun. Andrew Hallikas, adding that while user fees only make up a small amount of corporate revenue (three-five percent), they are a “fairer form of taxation” than property tax increases.
He noted that by keeping up with the CPI, the town isn’t devaluating its services.
If the town didn’t raise user fees from time to time, they’d “get behind the eight ball,” he argued.
Coun. Sharon Tibbs agreed to the two percent, as did Coun. Paul Ryan, who said the two percent increase “is probably the thing to do” and it does fall in line with the CPI.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft also said he agreed with the two percent hike, especially if it means not having to cut services and keeping down a general tax increase.
Coun. John Albanese said he didn’t see why taxpayers had to be punished with higher user fees, but that if they have to be increased, two percent is the upper limit.
Coun. Ken Perry said two percent was okay, but nothing above that.
Mayor Roy Avis said user fee increases should be two percent “for all fees.”
If the new schedule becomes a bylaw, most user fees will kick in Jan. 1 although some others, such as those for the Memorial Sports Centre, won’t come into effect until June 1 because ice rental fees, for example, already have been contracted out for the 2009-10 hockey season.
But user fees that currently include the GST (such as ice surface and pool rentals, auditorium rentals, boat slips, cemetery-related fees, airport fuel, etc.) will go up another eight percent come July 1 when the new HST is implemented.
If a user fee does not currently include the GST, it will not have the HST added to it, noted Witherspoon.
For example, an annual pool/fitness centre membership for an adult (resident) currently costs $424.52 (not including GST).
With a two percent increase, it will cost $433.01 (not including GST). With GST added, it will cost $454.67.
But after July 1, 2010, it will cost $489.31 because of the HST.
“I just hope people don’t blame us for the HST when they go to rent a boat slip and it’s $100 bucks more than last year,” said Coun. Ryan.
“It’s something we have no control over,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, user fees that will go up more than two percent are a couple related to waste management. This is to make up for decreasing revenues at the landfill and the increasing cost of recycling.
Bag tags will go up from $1.75 to $2 (a 12.5 percent increase) while the minimum charge for tipping at the landfill will jump from $15 to $16 (a six percent increase).
Other tipping fees, like the rate per tonne, only will go up two percent.
A staunch opponent of bag tags from the start, Coun. Perry said that if they are going up in price, it only should be two percent just like everything else.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown noted $2 is the same amount Dryden and Kenora charges for bag tags.
He added there has been a $58,000 increase in operating costs for waste management services this year. And if council doesn’t want to put it directly on the taxpayers, it has to be made up through user fees.
Brown noted in passing that many municipalities do not give their residents a free receptacle like Fort Frances does.
But Coun. Perry responded that people are going to recycle more and more in the future, use composting, and otherwise reduce waste, and so the town has to do something if this is going to drive up the price of bag tags.
“We have got to find a way to make money or sponsor this recycling thing,” he stressed.
“To charge the people more and more money to pick up their garbage isn’t going to do it,” he argued, adding that if the landfill site needs to be funded, it should be through general taxation and not bag tags.
Mayor Avis noted the town has to be cautious with increasing the cost of bag tags, and can’t see council raising the price over $2 next year.
He added that increasing the price of bag tags hurts families the most because they’re the ones who use more than the one free bag the town allows.
The user fee schedule also will receive fine-tuning between now and the Dec. 21 meeting.
Mayor Avis, for instance, has asked the Administration and Finance executive committee to look at why photocopier rates are not the same at the town hall, museum, and library, as well as having separate rates for low back and high back curbing.
Water and sewer rates for 2010 are not a part of the user fee schedule and will be discussed separately during the budget process.