Sewer, water rates top budget requests

Duane Hicks

A group of local businesses are requesting that during its 2011 budget deliberations, town council reconsider its approach to resolving the equity issue between commercial and residential sewer and water rates.
While the town has been decreasing commercial tax rates in recent years, it also has been increasing commercial sewer and water rates to align them with residential rates.
The group is recommending the town keep increases to the latter at a pace more directly aligned with the corresponding decrease in commercial tax rates.
“While we recognize there is an inequity in these rates, our concern lies with the pace at which the town is proposing to redress the issue,” La Place Rendez-Vous owner Paul Noonan, spokesperson for a group of 22 businesses, said at Monday night’s council meeting.
“Increases of 15-17 percent or higher annually on sewer and water bills for the high-volume business users are not reasonable when combined with the slow pace of redressing the taxation issue between commercial and residential taxpayers, which currently sits at 1.9 to 1,” he noted.
“We, therefore, request that the increase to commercial sewer and water rates proceed at a pace more directly aligned with the corresponding decrease in commercial tax rates,” Noonan remarked.
“The end result would be that when parity is achieved in the rate of taxation between our local commercial and residential ratepayers, parity will also be realized in sewer and water rates between the two sectors,” he reasoned.
The other businesses involved include the Bayview Motel, Voyageur Inn, Boston Pizza, Tim Hortons, Ernest Thompson Distributors, Selman’s Corner Gas (Fort Frances Husky), Murlin’s Car Wash, Makabi Inn, Suds and Tubs, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, and North American Lumber.
Rounding out the 22 are Piston Ring Service, Kent Ballan, Lakewood Tire, Rainbow Motel, Sunset Country Ford, Canadian Tire, A&W, Share Bears, and Shaw Cable Systems.
“As you are no doubt aware, we in local business continue to struggle through a difficult economic climate,” said Noonan.
“The high Canadian dollar, outshopping, a struggling forestry sector—there is no shortage of obstacles facing our business community.
“We are constantly under pressure to keep our prices from increasing, but it is difficult to do so when our costs continue to rise,” he noted.
“It is our goal that the town can work with local business to help mitigate some of these increases,” Noonan concluded.
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Sharon Tibbs asked council to consider in the 2011 budget the addition of a railing to the middle of the stairs leading down to the seats at the Ice For Kids Arena.
This railing would increase the safety of patrons, particularly seniors, getting to and from the seats.
“With the push from senior government to address accessibility issues, I feel this is a good fit and we may be able to get some funding assistance with this,” she noted.
Deputy Mayor Tibbs said she got the idea after attending the Scott Tournament of Hearts at the Esscar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, where the stairs in the stands were aided by a railing that ran down the middle of the steps.
“I paid particular attention to the crowd movement, and watched the ability of the seniors and people with a variety of balance disabilities to negotiate the stairs,” she explained.
“I noted how they were able to securely and independently reach their seats with the banister. I would even go so far as to say it pleased them very much.”
The deputy mayor noted a wall railing runs down both ends of the seating area in the Ice For Kids Arena.
“There was only one originally and we have addressed that,” she remarked. “But I believe we must make all the stairs safer.
“The distance to walk to these railings is difficult for some, and then they will have to negotiate their way through seated patrons to reach seating of their preference.
“We have a way to correct this.”
Deputy Mayor Tibbs said council knows the local population is aging, and for some older residents and people with balance and endurance issues, watching sporting events such as hockey and figure skating is the only thing they do in the arena.
“This issue is not limited to these groups,” she stressed. “Parents carrying or guiding young children on the steps would benefit.
“There is nothing to hang onto to help balance.”
Mayor’s requests
Deputy Mayor Tibbs also made several budget requests on behalf of Mayor Roy Avis, who was out of town Monday.
The list of requests is based on discussions Mayor Avis has had with the electorate over the past year.
Since all of council has been acclaimed, the mayor requested that council hold a strategic planning session in October to help set priorities for the 2011 budget.
He also requested the town put down new gravel on Osborne Street from Christie Avenue to Armit Avenue; Eighth Street from Christie Avenue to Portage Avenue; and Frog Creek Road from Caul Bridge to the airport.
The mayor added council should focus on increasing assessment by giving thought to a subdivision development and also re-think the town’s position on the condominium development, adding the latter project “needs a push to become a reality, and council may have to become more financially involved.”
Mayor Avis also said the town needs to analyze its work force and improve the maintenance program for the Memorial Sports Centre flower gardens, the Sorting Gap Marina gardens and washroom facilities, shrubs in front of the Civic Centre, and washroom facilities at Pither’s Point Park.
The mayor said he’s been a strong proponent of proper maintenance of town assets since maintenance reduces capital costs while proper maintenance instills a sense of respect in staff and patrons.
Mayor Avis also would like to see the town maintain its current user fee schedule with an increase no higher than the cost of living, including sewer and water, with no cross-class adjustments.
Non-resident fees should be considered through the budget process and be raised as needed.
Meanwhile, Coun. John Albanese said the town has spent plenty of money fixing up the waterfront, and now should spend some fixing up the interior of the Sorting Gap Marina.