Council hammering away at ’09 budget

Duane Hicks

After spending four hours yesterday talking about what the town needs now, what projects can wait, and areas where they could cut back and save dollars, town council and management are off to a flying start with the 2009 budget.
Taking a first look at the $16-million capital budget, several projects already have been given a tentative green light. These include:
•computer upgrades for all divisions ($20,000);
•breathing apparatus, communications equipment, facility repairs, infrared cameras, and water/ice rescue unit equipment for the Fire and Rescue Service ($56,000);
•motorized dampers for the heating system at the Fort Frances Children’s Complex ($5,000);
•a new Zamboni for the Memorial Sports Centre ($86,000);
•an ice painter for the Memorial Sports Centre ($5,000);
•weight room floor replacement at the Sportsplex ($12,000);
•filing cabinets for the Planning and Development division ($750);
•a back-up power system for the Civic Centre so it can reliably act as an emergency control centre ($60,000, although savings may be realized through a partnership with the Fort Frances Power Corp. or a Joint Emergency Preparedness Fund grant); and
•contributions from the Community Services and Planning and Development divisions for the ongoing GIS project ($15,000 so far).
Some projects that may or may not go ahead include:
•a command trailer for Fire and Rescue Services (this $84,748 item would depend on a grant from the Joint Emergency Preparedness Fund);
•equipment and furnishings for the Children’s Complex (these depend on funding from DSSAB); and
•the repair/replacement/possible removal of the fuel storage tank at the Sorting Gap Marina (this will be reviewed by the Community Services executive committee).
Meanwhile, items cut from the capital budget for 2009 include:
•relocation of the tennis courts ($220,000);
•bicycle storage stations ($6,000);
•guard rail for the Civic Centre roof ($38,000);
•funding for a fire training facility ($8,000);
•rescue tool replacement ($5,000); and
•hazardous material operations equipment ($5,000).
Tenders soon will be going out on a couple of major projects, including Phase II of the Heritage Tourism Project and the Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre, so up-to-date costs for these—and the town’s corresponding shares—won’t be know until sometime in February.
Operating budget
Council and administration also went over a number of operating budget considerations yesterday.
They agreed to a “Meals on Wheels” funding request of $14,000 (this is $500 more than last year).
They also agreed to a $7,500 marketing fee-for-service for the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, and to continue to support “Project Petunia” by watering flower baskets and planters as an in-kind service.
But they deferred a request for $2,500 to partially pay for an intern to research a destination marketing fee for Fort Frances until they could get input from economic development office Geoff Gillon to see if that funding could be drawn from money the town already has earmarked for marketing purposes.
Council deferred possible reductions in summer hours for recreation facilities and the Sorting Gap Marina, sending the matter back to the Community Services executive committee for review.
Trimming back hours, such as opening the marina later in the day and closing the Memorial Sports Centre on weekends (times when neither facility is busy during the summer months) would save the town several thousand dollars, noted Community Services manager George Bell.
They also deferred the possibility of eliminating remuneration for the board members and secretary of the Police Services Board (PSB), referring it to Community Services executive committee for its recommendation (the PSB is the only Community Services committee to receive remuneration).
This would save the town $7,000.
But mayor and council did agree they should continue to make annual contributions to their reserve funds for fleet and building replacement.
For 2009, they will set aside $127,000 for vehicles and another $48,000 for building replacement. Based on a review of the town’s assets, these funds are built up in anticipation of having to eventually replace vehicles and fix buildings in years to come.
At the beginning of yesterday’s meeting, the operating forecast showed a deficit of $32,251. This was after administration went over the budget line by line, reducing the shortfall from $223,000 as last reported in late December.
This $32,251 would amount to a residential tax increase of about 0.3 percent. But with the addition of $175,000 for the aforementioned contribution to fleet and building replacement, that figure has increased to 2.3 percent.
In related news, treasurer Laurie Witherspoon noted it remains to be seen whether the 2008 budget will end up with a surplus or a deficit, but she is quite certain that if it shows a surplus, “it’s not going to be much.”
“We have been budgeting very tight,” she noted. “2007’s surplus was $23,000 and I don’t see 2008 being much different.”
The next special committee of the whole meeting on the 2009 budget is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 2.