Council to begin search for cuts

Fort Frances needs to find a little more than $1.4 million in its overall budget to avoid a property tax hike in 1999. But the $64,000 question is where?
The committee of the whole of council has now met with the town’s four department managers and its economic development advisor over the past week, hearing presentations on proposed spending allocations from each one.
Geoff Gillon, with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. here, which the town contracts to do its economic development, submitted a budget totalling $75,000.
Of that, $58,214 is a per capita cost the RRFDC charges the town, $9,786 is for projects such as the new town signs, and $7,000 specifically for town promotion.
Gillon noted in his presentation to councillors that the RRFDC was involved in several projects with the town, including the cellular phone project, the bass tournament survey, and regional and U.S. marketing, such as the annual “Northern Networks” trade conference.
< *c>Where the dollars go
But most of the money asked to be spent lies with the town’s four departments–Administration and Finance, Operations and Facilities, Community Services, and Planning and Development.
Of the four, only Community Services’ proposed 1999 budget is smaller than 1998. It came in at $3,884,330 compared to $3.9 million last year (a 0.4 percent decrease) even though manager George Bell is planning for a big increase in the department’s capital budget from $52,350 last year to $101,500 this year.
Operations and Facilities presented the biggest increase for 1999, topping last year’s figures by $959,123.
Manager Jerry Tetu told councillors that most of that comes from a major jump ($489,485) in road work. He also said another $220,550 had to be spent for maintenance of the connecting link, plus another $196,097 to cover developing a new cell at the landfill site, a slight increase in garbage collection, and a lump sum of $95,700 to pay off the Northwest Ontario Recycle Association (NORA) deficit.
Other increases listed in the Operations and Facilities budget over 1998 were:
•$6,058 for administration;
•$501 for sidewalk repair;
•$5,439 for the industrial park;
•$2,500 for the airport;
•$42,290 for cemeteries; and
•$5,040 for parks upkeep.
Meanwhile, the proposed budget for Planning and Development moved up slightly (from $195,620 last year to $218,300 in 1999). Much of that jump is associated with the implementation of a Geographic Information System to allow for digital mapping (as per a request of the assessment office in Thunder Bay).
And Administration and Finance manager Darryl Allan said his department needs an extra $73,189 in the coming year, including about $20,500 to replace old office equipment, computers, and a photocopier.
He also recommended an additional $23,000 be moved to the department’s reserve fund for future computer upgrades and the next municipal election.
But Allan’s big cost was a $25,000 fund to deal with the “Year 2000” problem.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday that council must now take back what they heard and mull over what expenses stay and which ones go.
“We have an in-camera session at 4 p.m. [Dec. 14] to discuss financial matters,” he said. “That’s where we hope to finalize things.”
Council has one more regular meeting scheduled before January (slated Dec. 21 due to the Christmas holidays), giving it a bit of leeway if things take too long on Dec. 14 to finish up.
But Mayor Witherspoon also said there won’t be any major repercussions if the ’99 budget isn’t passed until the new year.
“If we have to go into January, we will,” he stressed. “But we’re shooting for the positive.”
He also is on record as saying council wants to avoid another property tax increase this year.