Incentive plan to see some re-tooling

The portion of the proposed community plan that deals with economic development financial incentives will see some re-tooling before the plan is finalized.
That word comes following a presentation by Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce reps at Monday night’s council meeting.
“We’re going to be taking the Chamber of Commerce’s comments back to the working group,” municipal planner Faye Flatt said Tuesday.
“We knew we would have to go back and discuss aspects of the financial incentive programs with the key players possibly affected by them.
“We didn’t plan for the financial incentives to be approved [Monday] night.
“Because of the tight timeline we’d been working on, it would be onerous to present all the details at this time,” Flatt added. “It was considered a first draft.”
Tannis Drysdale and Gary Rogozinski outlined what Chamber members thought about the “first draft” of the incentives program.
“As always, the devil’s in the details—and the details of this plan are at best described as sketchy and incomplete,” said Drysdale.
“The town’s community planner [Faye Flatt] has informed us that this is the only public meeting required, and if the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is in agreement with the plan as presented, the town could proceed to grant any of the incentives outlined in the plan without further consent,” she added.
“We would request that before any incentive program is offered that further meetings be scheduled to finalize the incentives.
“We believe that all the incentives should be reviewed against the following criteria: they actually work to overcome an existing business barrier, they do not create an unfair competitive advantage, and they meet a positive cost/benefit test,” Drysdale argued.
“In concept, we are in agreement with [town] council approving the incentives under the condition that they are finalized within the criteria we discussed earlier,” noted Rogozinski.
Such reforms to the proposed incentives are as follows:
•Municipal applications
The current reading of this incentive as it is written might lead to a situation where the town may find itself in a contractual situation paying for the cost of an appeal against its own decisions.
The town should limit the fee incentive here to only those costs assessed by the town itself.
•Titled building incentive program
This program would allow for council to make loans or grants to property owners to improve their properties. This should be limited to commercial and industrial properties.
•Municipally-owned property
The net effect of selling property below market value could cause an overall reduction in the assessment value of the entire area. For the private-sector landholder, their property values would have to compete with the artificially-low properties in their neighbourhood.
The town should extend this practice to the private sector, buying property at its assessed value from the owners and then selling it at a discount to a new business.
A report from the Chamber also noted the proposed community improvement plan only has been allotted $65,000 for all the incentives outlined, and questioned the seriousness of carrying them out with such limited resources.
The Chamber also suggested forming a “municipal red tape commission,” which would undertake a review of existing municipal regulations, taxes, and fees as well as hold meetings at which all citizens could bring red tape issues forward for review.
Drysdale noted the town also should have a lawyer look at the legality of offering incentives in order to prevent legal battles should one business receive benefits over another.
Meanwhile, Flatt said the community plan—of which the aforementioned incentives are but a part—may not need many adjustments.
But this all hinges on what the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says about it when it returns the report to Flatt this week or next.
After any adjustments have been made, the plan then will be presented to council for adoption. If it is, a bylaw will be enacted to adopt the plan.
Once adopted, two things happen—the document will be forwarded again to the ministry for final approval and within 15 days of adoption, public notice will be given.
Then begins a 20-day period for public appeals. If none are made, the decision of council regarding adoption of the plan is considered final.
However, the document still will not come into effect until the ministry approves it.
Before the Chamber’s presentation, Geoff Gillon, the town’s economic development officer and a member of the community plan working group, stressed the need for the plan and the economic incentives in it.
“The idea behind this is to enable the community to implement various community improvements and economic developments,” he noted.
“Primarily, we’re looking at commercial and industrial properties and commercial and industrial development.
“Our community shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. It’s paramount for Fort Frances to look for something to stimulate business,” stressed Gillon.
“We have learned it’s a fierce competition for new businesses out there. We need to do something to give us a leg up.”
Flatt noted the incentive program is part of the community plan which allows one of its objectives—economic growth—to be achieved.
But more than about economic development, the community plan sees the entire municipality divided into three project areas—resource development, mid-town industrial, and downtown core and waterfront.
This encompasses projects from the development of recreational trail and parks systems, town beautification, and a bypass route for large trucks to advancing wireless technology, the already-underway “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” initiative, and co-operation with First Nations for Pither’s Point Park development.
For more information on the community plan, the public is encouraged to pick up copies at the Civic Centre. Questions may be directed to Flatt at the municipal planning office.