Council faces tough slogging over budget

Duane Hicks

FORT FRANCES—With town council and management poised to start regular budget meetings next month, it looks like it will be tough slogging given they face an operating shortfall of $409,731 right off the bat.
“I think council does have quite a bit of work ahead of them,” admitted Mayor Roy Avis.
“We’re in economic conditions at the present time that are a major concern for all the people within the municipality, and that pretty well sets the tone for council for the whole year,” he noted.
“I think we have to be very cognizant of the fact there’s been some real tough times in this community and this district this last year,” Mayor Avis added. “We have to take that all into consideration.
“I don’t believe we will be at $400,000 at the end. I believe it will be substantially more than that,” he warned.
At its meeting Monday night, council received the preliminary 2010 operating and capital budget, which indicated the almost $410,000 shortfall as well as about $10 million in capital spending, in anticipation of the first special committee of the whole meeting on the budget set for Jan. 18.
“We’ve got our user fees in place now and I think we did some good, solid thinking on those,” said Mayor Avis. “Now, we’re going to have to walk through [the budget].
“We’re going to try and maintain what we have started over the last three years, where we replace equipment, look after the sewer and water, and try to enhance those certain areas, but it has to be within the affordable means of the community,” he stressed.
The 2010 budget process began with the adoption of a timetable and public meeting back on Sept. 14, since which administration has been working on operational projections and capital needs for the year ahead.
According to the timetable, budget meetings will continue to be held every two weeks until March 22, at which time it is hoped the budget will be ready for ratification.
A public meeting then will be held April 12, with the anticipated passage of the budget April 26.
“There is a great deal of work to do as evidenced by the operational shortfall,” treasurer Laurie Witherspoon said in her report to council Monday night.
“Mayor and council will have ample opportunity to affect changes to the budget document through active participation and consultation with administration throughout the committee of the whole budget meetings,” she explained.
Witherspoon noted the $409,731 shortfall is representative of a 4.5 percent overall municipal levy change using the starting tax ratios at this time.
But the shortfall does not include tangible asset amortization, the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board levy increase or apportionment change, or any new capital long-term debt.
“Clearly there is a great deal of work to do and prudent decisions to be made for this coming year’s budget,” Witherspoon said.
User fees
As noted, council approved a bylaw to impose new user fees for 2010 at Monday night’s meeting.
The bylaw will mean a two percent jump in the majority of user fees for local services.
“Overall, I think for us to maintain the municipality, the two percent increase is well within line,” said Mayor Avis, adding it’s based on the Consumer Price Index for the past year.
Most user fees will kick in Jan. 1 although some, 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.
A couple of user fees will go up more than two percent. Bag tags will jump from $1.75 to $2 (a 12.5 percent increase) while the minimum charge for tipping at the landfill will rise from $15 to $16 (a six percent hike).
Other tipping fees at the landfill, like the rate per tonne, only will go up two percent.
As well, 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.
Water and sewer rates for 2010 are not a part of the user fee schedule, and will be discussed separately during the budget process, probably to be decided by mid-February, Mayor Avis said.
(Fort Frances Times)