It’s a wrap for 2022 budget, council approves tax increase

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Town of Fort Frances council approved a 3.49 per cent municipal tax rate increase at Monday’s budget meeting.

Council also approved an increase of $318,840 to the 2022 operating budget, and a reduction of the large industrial tax ratio one-half of the difference between the 2021 ratio and the Industrial ratio; therefore reducing it to 4.663262.

This comes after council directed staff to find at least $100,000 to save, following a recommendation of a 4.48 per cent tax increase.

Town treasurer Dawn Galusha said administration went through, line by line, to try and determine where things could be cut.

“It is difficult to cut when a majority of your increase is salaries and benefits and things that are very uncontrollable,” Galusha said.

However, Galusha and the rest of the administration were able to drive the budget down to $109,129 by reducing corporate services such as public notices in the paper, administration and finance costs of office supplies and staff recruitment. Administration also was able to cut back on museum advertising, museum contracted services and airport maintenance.

Galusha said the tax increase will be based on the assessment of each property.

She said residential properties assessed at values between $0 to $100,000, which add up to 2,044 properties, will see an increase of $61 per year. The 946 properties, assessed at values between $100,000 to $200,000 will have an average increase of $134. The 78 properties assessed at values between $200,000 to $300,000 will have an average increase of $236. The seven properties assessed at values between $300,000 to $500,000 will see an average increase of $333. The two residential properties assessed at values between $500,000 to $700,000 will see an average increase of $582. And the one property assessed at values between $1 to $1.5 million will see an average increase of $1,285.

Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said this increase, given the inflationary 5.2 per cent, is fairly reasonable.

Wiedenhoeft also explained that 1.4 per cent of the 3.49 per cent increase is for the Asset Management Plan (AMP), and only 2.09 per cent is an increase of the actual operational costs. The AMP is mandated by the province to put away enough money to protect your interests in the future expenditures of those assets.

Wiedenhoeft said it is important that residents understand that the town is mandated through the AMP and that those costs are out of the municipality’s control.

“We’ve done this without cutting any services to the residents,” Wiedenhoeft said. “It is pretty amazing that our administration and senior staff have come forth with a budget that I think is very reasonable, given the circumstances of the inflationary times.”

Coun. Wendy Brunetta also expressed her appreciation to staff for sharpening their pencils and taking another look.

However, Coun. Douglas Judson voted against the capital and operating budgets. Judson said he supports council phasing out of the large industrial tax rate over the next two years, and that any further savings would retract services the town provides. That being said, he feels strongly that certain priorities were overlooked. 

“My concern is that there has been an under-prioritization of investments to attract and retain young families, and an over-prioritization of bureaucratic overhead and paper-pushing,” Judson said in a statement following the meeting. “In my view, council continues to write blank cheques to professional service providers, while abdicating its oversight responsibilities for these expenses.”

For example, Judson said, council continues to pay inflated fees to the delegated integrity commissioner, adding that this could be changed by simple changes to the Municipal Code of Conduct. In the statement, Judson said he raised this proposal, but it was never pursued.

“I am concerned that we are spending money on all of these items that do not return direct value to our citizens, yet for some reason we expect volunteers to pick up the slack, and spearhead the development of new public amenities, like a splash park for the community,” he added. “That doesn’t make any sense to me, or the voters I have explained it to.”