Council moving ahead with budget

Duane Hicks

While issues like contract negotiations and social service funding apportionment remain unresolved at this time, Fort Frances council has decided to move on with its 2010 budget.
Council finalized the budget at a meeting Monday, approving a residential tax levy increase of 3.07 percent.
This is equivalent to a net tax dollar increase over last year of $8.73 per $100,000 of assessment.
Last year, residential taxpayers paid $1,863.77 per $100,000 of assessment. This year, they will pay $1,872.50.
Due to a decrease in the education levy, as well as changes in the assessed values for various property classes, some classes (commercial, industrial, large industrial, and pipeline) will see an increase in levy but a decrease in the amount of dollars paid.
A summary of the levy increases is as follows:
•3.07 percent for residential, which equals a net tax dollar increase of $8.73 per $100,000 of assessment;
•3.28 percent for multi-residential, which equals a net tax dollar increase of $39.39 per $100,000 of assessment;
•1.21 percent for commercial, which equals a net tax dollar decrease of $582.66 per $100,000 of assessment;
•1.31 percent for industrial, which equals a net tax dollar decrease of $62.15 per $100,000 of assessment;
•1.47 percent for large industrial, which equals a net tax dollar decrease of $807.17 per $100,000 of assessment; and
•2.55 percent for pipeline, which equals a net tax dollar decrease of $550.27 per $100,000 of assessment.
 How much each property owner pays also may differ depending on whether their property assessment has gone up or down.
Town treasurer Laurie Witherspoon noted that in the past year, 1,724 properties went up an average dollar change of $27 while more than 1,300 went down an average of $21.
With this scenario, the town is looking to generate $314,500 to both pay for an operating budget deficit of $197,270 and $117,232 for the principal and interest on long-term debt.
The operating deficit currently is $130,044, but council opted to include an extra $67,226 in case operating costs go up after ongoing contract negotiations with firefighters and town staff are finalized.
Mayor Roy Avis said since the town still doesn’t know what will happen with this, or whether the town will have to pay more for social services if the local District Social Services Administration Board changes its apportionment funding formula, council elected to include the extra money in the budget in anticipation of possible additional costs.
“I think we had to build in a little protection so that we can balance our budget at the year-end, rather than all of a sudden coming up short and having to deal with it next year,” he explained.
“I think it’s very prudent for council to do what we did,” he added.
 As previously reported, DSSAB is in the process of deciding whether to change the formula, which determines how much certain municipalities and unorganized areas pay for social services.
If the formula remains status quo, Fort Frances will keep paying its current portion.
If the formula changes, however, it would drive up the town’s annual payment to DSSAB from $1,831,471.17 to $1,940,467.39—a difference of $108,996.22.
It also would increase annual payments for Lake of the Woods, La Vallee, and Morley townships.
But council elected Monday to not wait any longer on this unresolved situation, and instead moved ahead with the budget as DSSAB determines electoral numbers for voting purposes.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft suggested that if DSSAB wants to change the formula, it should investigate it with a mind to institute it next year, in anticipation of the 2011 budget, not right now.
“We’ve got to move forward with our budget,” he stressed.
“I don’t think we should hold up the budget anymore,” echoed Mayor Avis.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig noted that in the past, the town passed budgets in March. He added council has to remember that during the course of a year, more factors—positive and negative—always are going to come up.
“We can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen,” agreed Coun. Andrew Hallikas.
“Our budget won’t be perfect but we have to do the best that we can,” he reasoned.
Referring to the apportionment formula, McCaig later added that although Coun. Sharon Tibbs has represented the town well at the DSSAB table, perhaps the town should get together with other municipalities—away from the DSSAB table—to talk about the ramifications of the possible changes.
Council accepted the budget by a 6-1 vote Monday night, with Coun. Ken Perry voting against it.
“I am not in favour. I won’t vote for the budget,” Coun. Perry said, explaining that if the town wasn’t seeing a decrease in the education levy and reassessment this year, council would be looking at “a hell of an increase in taxes.”
“Those things that are giving us a break, the education, the reassessment, are making it easy for us,” he remarked.
“I want to see a year where we don’t get an education decrease, where we don’t get a reassessment in properties, and see what we end up doing?”
Community Services manager George Bell noted the province changed the way it taxed and ran school boards years ago “for the very purpose of providing room to municipalities to be able to deal with the ever-increasing demands on them.”
“And they made changes with the way we receive money from them in order to allow them to do that. . . .
“The whole purpose of the change was to provide room for municipalities so they wouldn’t have to increase their tax rates,” Bell reasoned.
The budget will be presented at a public meeting on Monday, June 14, at which time it also will come forward as a bylaw for council to pass.