No decisions yet on town budget

With news two weeks ago that the town is facing a $2.8-million deficit, which could translate into a 67.5 percent tax hike for residents, council and town staff have been working hard to determine what it has to do balance the budget.
And while no details have been revealed as to what those measures may be, acting CAO Mark McCaig said at Monday night’s council meeting that the public will be consulted before any big decisions are made.
“Because of our current fiscal situation within the Town of Fort Frances, for lack of a better term, everything is on the table, within reason, to be looked at and scrutinized ” McCaig told council.
“The management group has endeavoured to start looking at the initial projections we made with an eye to reduce any of the controlled costs we can.
“We had a fairly successful session the other day. We’re chiselling away at it as we go,” he added.
“Subsequent to that, we want to bring forward any kind of reductions in controllable costs that we’ve effected with the original budget,” he noted. “We want to provide the rationale to the council at an open council meeting as to why we did so.”
McCaig said by law, there is a 21-day notice period before any new licence systems or user fee schedule is put into effect. And that if any new costs are to be incurred by taxpayers, there would have to be public meetings on any proposed changes before that 21-day notice period started.
In the case of a residential tax increase, a public meeting also would be advertised well in advance of any decisions.
McCaig stressed the town didn’t mean to be alarmist with news of the deficit, but that it had to be honest about the situation.
“It [the deficit and subsequent budget process] is a highly-publicized and no doubt highly-talked about item in our community, and I’d like to make the comment from the management perspective that we felt it necessary when we made the projections for the operating forecast—I don’t want to call it overkill—but we wanted to bring everything to the forefront,” he remarked.
“It was a very Spartan exercise from the get-go,” he stressed. “Everything’s under the microscope in a situation like this.”
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft noted that, for the public’s information, town management staff have not been coming forth with “padded numbers” in the budget process but “bare bones” figures.
As reported in yesterday’s Daily Bulletin, council on Monday night stressed that despite any rumours on the street, no drastic cuts or tax increases have been decided on yet.
And to set the record straight, Coun. Tannis Drysdale brought forward a motion, which council unanimously passed, stating just that.
“Be it resolved that the council of the Town of Fort Frances is only in the preliminary stages of reviewing the options available to us to balance the 2004 budget,” read the statement.
“It should be clear that currently no position within the corporation had been deemed redundant, and no town facility is scheduled for closure,” it continued.
“The council and mayor, in co-operation with our staff, will continue to work to resolve the current deficit issues.”
“I think it’s important for us to be clear about where it is we are with this process,” Coun. Drysdale said to her fellow councillors.
“I think there’s been some speculation. It is not necessary at this point in time,” she added. “And I’ve talked with other councillors, and we wanted to make it clear we’re in the very preliminary stages.”
“I’ve had some comments from the community as to what we may be doing, what they heard we were doing, what we might be doing, and I think it’s important for the council and management team and the mayor . . . to state we’re in the planning process,” echoed Coun. Todd Hamilton.
“I’d like to give the managers credit. They’ve been working very, very hard,” he added.
It was reported in the Times two weeks ago that the town is facing a shortfall of $2,792,030 in 2004.
This is due to numerous factors, including unforeseen costs, anticipated increases such as salaries, and uncontrollable costs like those the town pays to the Northwestern Health Unit, District Social Services Administration Board, Rainycrest Home for the Aged, and OPP.
Furthermore, the town has long-term debt payments in the amount of roughly $700,000 to make while also seeing reduced revenues from interest on reserve funds—both of which partially are due to budget deficits from 2002 and 2003.
(Fort Frances Times)