Council tables new sewer, water rates

Town council will wait until its July 11 meeting to vote on a bylaw to set new sewer and water rates after agreeing Monday night to further discuss the proposed fee schedule.
The decision came after it became clear at Monday night’s council meeting that both local businesses, and several councillors, felt the rate increases to the commercial sector were too drastic.
Christine Denby, first vice-president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, told council that the Chamber understands the need to upgrade the town’s sewer and water system.
But in light of the working partnership between the town and local businesses to ensure the commercial sector survives and prospers here, she felt the rate hikes for that sector were unfair.
“After reviewing the report [from CN Watson & Associates], it was clear that total support of area businesses by town council was not there,” Denby said, reading a letter from Chamber president Gary Rogozinski.
“It appears the burden of meeting the future financial obligation is placed squarely on the shoulders of the area business customers, with very little on the residential customers,” she added.
“If this is what we call supporting the business community, then we need to revisit our strategy,” Denby stressed. “The continual increase of restrictions and financial burden to businesses will only result in more empty buildings in downtown Fort Frances.”
She added the Chamber is willing to sit down with the town, and strongly encouraged the town to distribute increases “in a fair and equitable manner to all customers.”
Paul Noonan, co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous here, told council Monday night that after figuring out how much his rates would go up in the next six months, it left him in “shock.”
“For a business like the Rendez-Vous, that’s a $10,000 increase in the first year alone,” he remarked, adding the increases to residents is a fraction of the hike for the commercial sector.
As of July 1, the metered commercial rate for water was slated to go up from $0.69/cubic metre to $0.89 while the metered rate for sewer will change from $0.61/cubic metre to $0.75.
And then in January, 2006, metered commercial water and sewer rates were to rise to $1.10/cubic metre and $0.89/cubic metre, respectively.
“How can you justify this increase to just one segment of the population and not the other?” asked Noonan.
On top of that, he added, there’s been an inequity between commercial and residential tax rates for years.
“I’m sorry, mayor and council, but your current rate proposal is flawed and needs to be taken back to the drawing board,” said Noonan, who warned if the town passes the new rate structure, larger users might opt to go “off the grid” and leave residents “holding the glass.”
But Mayor Dan Onichuk said the commercial sector has gotten a break for too long, and that the revised fee schedule was an attempt to fix that by making the cost per cubic metre of water the same for both residential and commercial in the next five years.
“I understand your concern, but do you realize that residential rates now subsidize commercial rates to the tune of $642,000 a year?” said Mayor Onichuk.
He noted that out of 250 local businesses, more than 160 are being subsidized by residential customers and the 80 smaller businesses in town that pay a minimum charge for their metered rate.
“The residents have been subsidizing commercial for a long, long time,” the mayor remarked.
He added businesses claiming their taxes are too high should recall that the town has been working to equalize commercial and residential tax rates.
The mayor also noted residential property-owners have seen about a 17 percent increase in taxes over the past two years while commercial property owners have seen a jump of less than five percent.
Council unanimously agreed to hold a special meeting next Tuesday (July 5) to further discuss the proposed sewer and water rates in the hopes of having a decision at the July 11 council meeting.