Council sets date for public budget meeting

As town council and management work to find ways to trim a $2-million shortfall in the 2004 budget, a special committee of the whole meeting was held Monday afternoon to get councillors’ input on how much of a tax increase may be acceptable to residential taxpayers.
But after much discussion, council agreed it should ask the constituents what they think before considering any large tax hikes at a public meeting slated for Monday, March 15.
“In the past, when the public has shown up at the budget meetings, hadn’t council already set the budget?” wondered Coun. Tannis Drysdale. “I would like a public meeting before we set the budget so their input is usable.
“That’s the way the provincial and federal government does it.
“How can we structure this?” continued Coun. Drysdale. “If we just say, come out and talk, they’ll talk about what we should do with the money. We have to explain the taxation system, what uncontrollables are, and the history of taxation here.
“We’ll have to explain the three means of getting money: user fees, efficiencies, and increased taxes. And we’ll have to give people structure to make comments,” she added.
Coun. Neil Kabel agreed a public meeting would be very valuable in learning what would be acceptable to the public and what wouldn’t.
“If we go through the public process and come up with a way to save $1.8-million where they say, ‘Yeah do that,’ then that’s $1.8 million less we have to tax,” he said.
“If [garbage] ‘bag tags’ means $600,000 in revenues and they’re okay with that, that’s a lot.”
Mayor Dan Onichuk suggested a Power Point presentation, with information being broadcast directly on the TV screens in people’s homes through a Shaw cable broadcast, after which the town would collect comments from the public to consider in their decisions.
“Part of the issue is educating people,” said Coun. Todd Hamilton, adding the town has to give them “something easy-to-read.”
Acting CAO Mark McCaig echoed the town has to be sure to break the information down to be understandable to all. “The rationale we’ll be able to provide will be very apparent,” he said.
Coun. Drysdale noted the town should provide budget information on its website while Clerk Glenn Treftlin suggested the public should be able to give budget input via e-mail.
The committee of the whole also discussed setting a range for an estimated tax increase to the ratepayers of Fort Frances for the sake of having something for administration to work with in preparing possible financial scenarios.
But they could not decide on such a figure, and deferred the matter until more information is brought forward at future budget meetings.
The committee of the whole will continue its budget talks with a meeting on capital projects scheduled for this Friday at 11:30 a.m., followed by another tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday (Feb. 23)—before its regular committee of the whole meeting that day.
They will meet again at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 1, then at 4 p.m. before the regular March 8 meeting.
As reported in Monday’s Daily Bulletin, the committee of the whole first met Friday, where a total of $724,564 in reductions were unveiled in reports from the division managers.
This money was combination of the increased GST rebate, confirmed tax revenues stemming from additional assessments (but not levy increases), cuts to staff travel and training, cancelled transfers to reserves, and “other known items that won’t be happening in 2004 anymore,” noted Treftlin.
None of this trimming included eliminating jobs, closing facilities, or creating new user fees.
While such reductions have not been approved by council yet, they tentatively reduce the total shortfall to about $2 million.
(Fort Frances Daily Bulletin)