Council eyeing three percent tax hike

While the budget won’t be finalized until at least next month, town council currently is discussing a three percent tax hike to local residents for 2006.
Mayor Dan Onichuk said Monday the hike isn’t written in stone yet, but could be in that neighbourhood based on a combination of keeping up with inflation and funding for capital projects.
The mayor noted the town got into a financial crunch a few years ago because council froze taxes while the inflation rate was going up and the provincial government was continuing to download services onto municipalities.
And he feels it’s only prudent to avoid this situation again.
“The inflation rate is running around 2.2 percent or 2.3 percent,” the mayor said.
“I think if you look at an inflationary increase, and a little more because of capital improvements that need to be done, I’m hopeful the increase will come in at three percent or less,” he added.
As to exactly how the tax increase would be applied—whether strictly to residential or across several classes—remains to be seen, the mayor said.
“We’re capped on some classes. On commercial and large industrial there’s a certain cap we can go to,” Mayor Onichuk noted. “We would be able to apply 50 percent of whatever the residential is to those groups, and that is certainly in the discussions also.”
The budget process has been ongoing since late last year, with council having had many meetings to discuss what the 2006 one had to include.
“We’ve gone through all the operational needs and the capital needs,” Mayor Onichuk said.
“If you recall two budgets ago, when council dealt with its first budget, we did nothing in the way of capital improvements, so we’ve got a lot of things that need to be replaced,” he added.
“Vehicles that are getting old and not in the greatest shape to drive, some of our major equipment needs replacing,” he noted. “So we needed to take a serious look at our capital.
“We cut it down considerably, but reached a number that seems to be comfortable with most of council for both operations and capital.”
But the budget cannot be finalized until the town receives information from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, with respect to the Rainycrest budget, and the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board with respect to its municipal levy for the year.
“We’ve put in figures, guesstimations, but we can’t finalize it until we have those numbers,” stressed Mayor Onichuk. “We’re supposed to have those numbers both from the ministry and DSSAB by the end of March.”
Once these can be calculated into the budget, the town will call a public meeting to give taxpayers a chance for input prior to council voting on it.
(Fort Frances Times)