Town budget deficit still being whittled

Duane Hicks

While the 2019 budget process is not over yet, the financial picture is looking clearer–and somewhat rosier–than two months ago.
The operating budget deficit, which started out at $795,277 during the first committee of the whole budget meeting held back on Jan. 21, has been reduced substantially.
At the March 4 budget meeting, the operating budget deficit was $349,326.
One big cut was that council agreed to reduce the dollars put aside for Point Park litigation by half. Instead of $490,000, the 2019 operating budget will include only $245,000 for litigation costs.
Another reason for the deficit reduction is at the start of the year, the town predicted an estimated drop in Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) dollars to the tune of $167,105 compared to 2018.
Fortunately, the town since has learned it not only was getting as much OMPF funding as last year but an increase of $21,400 (this hike, announced last Thursday, has not yet been applied to the capital budget), Fort Frances treasurer Dawn Galusha told the Times.
Since the March 4 meeting, Galusha also has found out about the town’s court security prisoner transport grant, which will reduce the deficit by an additional $118,000.
This means the deficit now is closer to less than $210,000. In the past, a one percent tax increase has equalled about $100,000 in revenue to help balance the operating budget.
The capital budget, meanwhile, also has been reduced significantly from its first draft first presented back on Jan. 21.
After multiple reviews and the trimming of low- and medium-priority items, the capital budget has gone from being around $15 million at first blush to now being anywhere from $6.88 million to $9.6 million–depending on whether the town receives Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) dollars this year.
The two main road and water and sewer infrastructure projects in the capital budget this year include overhauling Second Street East from Victoria Avenue to Portage Avenue and completely replacing 478 metres of pipes and road along Colonization Road West.
If the town gets OCIF top-up funding and council decides to do both projects, the capital budget could be around $9.6 million.
If the OCIF money is received, and council decides to proceed with Colonization Road West but cut the Second Street job, the capital budget could be $8 million.
If the town doesn’t get a OCIF grant and decides to do neither, the capital budget could be down to $6.88 million.
The capital budget is funded through grants, reserves, and water and sewer rates.
Looking ahead, Galusha said administration and council are waiting on education taxes, as well as to see if the provincial budget, slated to drop April 11, will affect this year’s town budget.
The next budget meeting tentatively is set for Monday, April 1.
Council is hoping to finalize the 2019 budget by the end of April.