Council takes axe to capital budget

Duane Hicks

The 2012 preliminary capital budget will be a lean one, having been cut by more than half since the last meeting.
Town council received an updated preliminary capital budget Monday, which had been trimmed by $4.6 million since the Jan. 16 committee of the whole meeting.
Mayor and council then reduced it by a further $230,000, bringing the budget total down to about $4.5 million.
Items cut from the capital budget included a bike/walking trail ($858,400), Public Works sand/storage building ($528,278), and the replacement of 36 street light poles along Scott Street ($131,000).
Also axed were surface treatments for Frog Creek Road and Oakwood Road ($55,650 and $44,877, respectively), the cleaning and painting of the Portage Avenue underpass ($25,000), a heated north-end rink shack ($45,000), and GIS equipment ($16,554).
One major project cut from the capital budget was the reconstruction of Scott Street from Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East, which carried a price tag of $2.8 million.
The project has been earmarked in the budget for the past few years, but carried over as the town waited for the provincial government to provide “Connecting Link” funding to help pay for it, as it has for jobs like the reconstruction of Central Avenue.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the latest word he got from the Ministry of Transportation is that the program is in limbo, which he takes to mean it no longer exists.
“The program seems to be lost, and I’ll tell you that is a catastrophic occurrence for the Town of Fort Frances,” McCaig stressed.
“Our road that is designated a ‘Connecting Link’ is heavily-travelled by people that aren’t really germane to the Town of Fort Frances,” he noted.
“We’re on a border, and there’s a tremendous amount of traffic that flows through Fort Frances.
“And now what the government is telling us is they want us to keep that road at an acceptable standard for that travel on our dollar and I don’t think that’s fair,” McCaig added.
Traffic signal controllers at King’s Highway and McIrvine Road, as well as at King’s Highway and Central Avenue, which were to be “Connecting Link” projects valued at $60,000, also were cut.
Two items that still may get sliced from the 2012 capital budget include an accessibility project at the East End Hall ($57,150) and a fire/rescue truck ($90,000).
Both are dependent on the town getting partial funding through federal grants.
In addition to the second phase of reconstruction scheduled to take place on Third Street East between Portage and Victoria Avenue this summer, some of the larger capital projects that will be going ahead in 2012 include:
•upgrades to the Portage Avenue storm sewer pumping station ($266,667);
•surface treatment on Eighth Street from Portage Avenue to Christie Avenue/asphalt from Christie to Victoria ($65,000);
•renovations to the Riverview Cemetery office building ($80,000);
•roof replacement at the Civic Centre ($250,000),
•a new handicapped van ($75,000);
•a new CAT backhoe/loader ($73,440);
•a new crew cab truck ($37,000); and
•flooring and locker replacements at the Memorial Sports Centre ($25,000).
The town will not resort to long-term debt to pay for capital projects this year, with all of the $4.5 million in projects to be paid out of reserves (i.e., general, sewer and water, and federal gas tax) or using provincial and federal grants or contributions from others.
The 2012 preliminary operating budget currently shows a deficit of $298,294 (which still may change as the town hasn’t yet received confirmation of its apportionment of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board levy for 2012).
At its stands today, the town is looking at a three percent residential levy change.
This equals an increase of $65.05 per $100,000 of assessment if your property assessment is changing this year, or an increase of $13.99 per $100,000 of assessment if your property assessment is staying the same.
Coun. Ken Perry clarified that the preliminary municipal tax rate increase is, in fact, 4.057 percent. But due to a decrease in the education tax rate, it only ends up being a 3.04 percent residential levy change.
As a side note, McCaig said town council has been pretty prudent over the last few years in regards to tax increases, and that the town, as an organization, has been prudent to economic forces affecting it.
He noted the town has adopted a program of attrition over the past few years, which has saved more than $1 million in wages by assimilating duties.