Municipal taxes going up

For the first time in seven years, Fort Frances ratepayers will see an increase in their municipal taxes after town council unanimously approved a 4.68 percent hike for 1998 at a special meeting last Wednesday.
That means households will see, on average, a $46.27 jump on their tax bills this year.
CAO Bill Naturkach said the average 1997 residential tax bill was $1,717.25–$988 for the municipal portion and $729.25 for the education levy.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said with the “downloading” and the loss of the $2-million unconditional grant, council didn’t think is was fair to the divisions to ask them to find the savings.
But he stressed “downloading” alone wasn’t to blame for the hike.
“The tax increase has mainly to do with the [auditorium and arena] projects,” he said Monday. “The majority of the people wanted these two facilities.”
Dan Cousineau, chairman of the Business Improvement Area, felt commercial taxpayers would be hit harder. But he didn’t blame council.
“I see their hands being tied, in some respects,” he said. “I tend to look at the Ontario government for this tax increase, and then go from there.
“From a business point of view, you never like to see taxes go up,” he added, noting the commercial rate was higher than that paid by residential property owners.
But it isn’t known yet what the increase will mean to commercial ratepayers. Administration and Finance manager Darryl Allan noted the residential rate was 80 percent of the commercial one in the past.
“The relationship that was no longer is. For this year, we do not know yet what those ratios will be,” he explained, adding that ratio still was to be determined by the province.
And until those ratios come in, along with the new assessment role, the proposed increase won’t be cast in stone. As well, the province still has to specify the dollar figure the town will receive as the province hands over half the education levy.
“We’ve not been told what that number is from Ontario,” Naturkach said, adding that, along with the new assessment role, isn’t expected until the end of May.
Because of this, town council is reviewing whether it can extend the deadline for the remainder of the 1998 municipal tax bill, which is slated to be paid by June 30.
Naturkach noted by law, the town had to issue tax bills two weeks in advance of when they were due. But if the assessment role and tax ratios don’t come until the end of May, that only gave the town two weeks to work out the figures, change the software, and have new tax bills made.
Allan expected the bills wouldn’t come out until the end of July, at the earliest.
“More likely, the beginning of August,” he added, noting the delay in dollars coming in was being built into the $1.5 million special circumstances fund application sent to the province to cover one-time costs associated with the “download.”
But Allan warned there was no guarantee the town will see those dollars.
Total expenditure for 1998 is set at $16,247, 936, which includes operating and capital budgets (both the arena and auditorium are included), as well as contributions to reserve funds.
Revenue from grants and user fees is $9,705,000 while revenue from taxes is $6,542,846–up almost $300,000 over last year’s levy.
Allan noted approving the budget in principle is particularly important for the capital projects that need to be tendered.
Meanwhile, the four town departments still have to achieve a $400,000 operating savings throughout the year. A portion of reserve funds will be allocated as being committed for that so it wouldn’t be “deficit budgeting.”
“You can’t do [deficit budgeting] as a municipality,” Allan noted.
In other budget news, the financial impact of “mega week” on Fort Frances ($4,717,000) will be totally financed by the provincial Community Reinvestment Fund as well as the municipal savings that will be achieved.
But the numbers passed on by the province March 31 are $77,000 short of what agencies are saying they will be billing the town for the “downloaded” services.