Council gives nod to ’98 budget

Residential ratepayers can expect an average 10.1 percent hike over last year on their final municipal tax bills as Fort Frances council set the ’98 budget into bylaw Monday night.
That despite objections from local ratepayers about the $24,000 shift from the commercial base onto residential, and a request that final reading of the bylaw be deferred to give ratepayers time to look at what the impact might be.
At its July 27 meeting, council unanimously voted to drop the commercial tax ratio from 3.19 to 3.09. That means for every one residential dollar collected, the town will pull in $3.09 from the “commercial occupied” sector.
But those on hand for Monday’s meeting argued if commercial taxes were too high, it shouldn’t be up to the residential ratepayers to provide relief.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon pointed out the shift represented only a 0.6 percent increase in residential rates.
“It’s very small,” the mayor added, noting that averaged out to less than $10 per household.
“For me, it would beg the question, well, why are you doing it?” noted Ken Egan, one of 20 residents on hand for the public meeting on the ’98 budget. “Why are the residential taxpayers being asked to pick up any part of this?”
Egan argued it didn’t seem right to shift the taxes from one class to the other.
“Why are we taking a tax from one and putting it onto another? Is it going to open something else as time goes by?” Egan questioned.
And Allan Bedard, who spoke on behalf of the Northern Action Group, felt the tax-shift issue was big enough to take to the polls in a plebiscite during the next municipal election.
But Coun. Sharon Tibbs, chair of the Administration and Finance executive committee, noted council may have been able to find another way, but feared it would mean less service to the community.
She added for ’99, administration was on notice they were to find savings from within.
“These ratios are up for review annually,” Coun. Deane Cunningham said, explaining the classes were set out by the province. “[But] when you’re moving any of these other ones [other than residential], you can only move down.”
With bylaws passed on different budget issues, tax bills are slated to go out by the end of the month, with Sept. 30 the payment deadline. But council is expecting more people to come forward with questions or concerns.
“Anyone who has concerns can discuss it with administration,” Mayor Witherspoon added.