Town budget calls for $1.5-million increase

The Town of Fort Frances needs to find just shy of $1.5 million somewhere in the system to avoid a 20.3 percent tax increase from last year, Monday’s preliminary budget revealed.
But for a preliminary budget, the town’s not in a bad position to remain tax neutral, Treasurer Carol Busch told councillors.
Busch reminded councillors that in past years, some preliminary budgets saw increases of 100 percent or more if left as is–making 20.3 percent a much easier figure to knock down.
Still, it’s going to take some work to do that, admitted Administration and Finance manager Darryl Allan, adding meetings slated for Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 probably won’t be the only ones set aside for budget deliberations.
“If it goes true to form, there should be a couple more after these ones,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect we’d be seeing the budget bylaw being passed until the early part of the new year.
“But it’s a better start than we’ve had in past years,” he agreed. “Council said, ‘We didn’t want to see any wish lists.’ By following that, you start off with a much lower number.”
Some of the increases in the budget include:
•$27,500 to allow for changes to the utility billing system and Year 2000 issues;
•a transfer of $531,537 from the waterworks utility to the general fund under Operations and Facilities for capital projects;
•a $40,000 increase in the Community Services budget for emergency services; and
•a reserve contingency of $150,000
Busch also budgeted for a taxation shift as a result of decreasing the commercial transition ratio from 3.09 to 2.99. But she noted it is “the intent of council to offset the impact of this tax shift through efficiency savings.”
Another revenue source missing from this year’s budget compared to last year was a $400,000 surplus. Allan noted council usually comes up with a $300,000-$400,000 surplus and, last year, included it in the budget.
A good chunk of the money being spent in the 1999 budget will be for capital projects, particularly road work and repair.
“Council has expressed that is a priority,” Allan said. “Most of the capital expenditures are within that area–about half-a-million dollars.”
For the most part, the preliminary budget has set aside money for these projects out of tax revenue. Allan said some have been tagged with funds drawn from reserves but not much.
“Council wants to see reserves be replenished,” he added. “There have been some big draws [last year] with the ice rink and auditorium.”
About $4.3 million of the town’s budgets come from grants. At the end of her report, Busch warned council on this, noting transfer payments from senior levels of government have decreased in the last few years.
“I recommend that we have a plan in place for the eventual phase-out of all grant funding over the next five years,” she said. “At least by doing this, we are prepared for whatever comes our way.
“A couple of years ago, I recommended that we establish a capital works program budget covering at least the next five years,” she added, noting now would be a very good time to do so.
“The capital works program budget would specify all of the resources to be used for the financing of each capital expenditure, such as debenture, reserve funds, capital grants, and current revenues,” Busch said. “The capital program is subject to continuous review and possible change, and is rolled forward each year.
“Under this approach, a specific capital budget would still be adopted each year, reflecting the first year of the capital works program as finalized by the council,” she continued.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said council wanted to deal with the 1999 budget without any tax increases.
Also at Monday night’s council meeting:
•councillors agreed to send $200 to local band “Whitefire Reed” to help recover some of its expenses after being invited to perform at the Canadian Aboriginal Festival in Toronto earlier this month;
•an invoice for $46,000 toward the “Ice for Kids” project was approved;
•bylaw no. 38/96G was passed, prohibiting parking on the north side of Front Street between Victoria Avenue and Armit Avenue;
•a letter from the Northwest Ontario Recycle Association asking for an additional one-time-only $11 per/capita cost to clear its initial debt was referred to the Administration and Finance committee, along with letters from the Ontario Jobs and Investment Board, the Government of Canada Community Access Program, and an invoice from “Ontario Works” for $110,823.19.