Town budget process well underway

The town’s 2006 budget work is well underway, with the committee of the whole to meet next Monday afternoon (Dec. 5) to continue the process.
But in revealing a draft of the 2006 operational and capital forecasts at this past Monday night’s council meeting, Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said there already are hurdles evident that council and management will have to overcome.
He noted there is a $318,392 shortfall in the operating forecast that “must be addressed by some means” while the capital forecast has a list of $2.7 million worth of projects the town will have to “prioritize to determine what will stay and what will go.”
McCaig added the town also has to wait for assessment rolls for 2006 to come in, but is expecting—given the high number of assessment appeals from the public in the past year—to see changes property tax revenues there.
On the other hand, he said no user fee increases are in the works at this point although there will be a 10 percent water and sewer rate hike “across the board.”
Uncontrollable costs—such as district social services, Rainycrest, and the Northwestern Health Unit—won’t be known until the New Year, but are right now in the $3.5-million range, based on numbers from 2005.
Mayor Dan Onichuk pointed out there will be no health unit levy increase in the year ahead.
McCaig also noted the town’s long-term debt payments will be slightly higher this year because of higher interest rates.
“It’s tough. Things are tough in the Town of Fort Frances,” McCaig said, adding the town must seriously look at long-term financial planning in the near future.
Council held its first public budget meeting regarding the 2006 budget on Sept. 26, after which time the four executive committees took the information it received and reviewed it during the weeks of Oct. 3-7.
These same committees then reviewed the various division budgets during the week of Oct. 17-21.
Information then was handed over to treasurer Peggy Dupuis by Oct. 31, who, in turn, consolidated the data into this draft operational and capital forecast.
This draft, and other budget information, now will be reviewed repeatedly by town administration and the committee of the whole throughout December and January before being up for ratification by council in late January.
A second public meeting then will be held Monday, Feb. 13, with the budget anticipated to be ready for a final vote in March.
Also at Monday night’s meeting, council:
•received the Downtown Core Committee report, as presented by EDAC chair Patti-Jo Reid and Chamber of Commerce president Gary Rogozinski, as well as the letters from various partner groups supporting the document;
•approved a report from Community Services manager George Bell recommending that if a new library is built here, it be built to the east of the Memorial Sports Centre;
•heard a presentation by Jim Kibiuk, president and CEO of the Fort Frances Power Corp., regarding its “Get the L.E.D. Out” light exchange program (this exchange will continue at an information session slated for Thursday, Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. at the Memorial Sports Centre auditorium);
•received, with appreciation for service, a letter of resignation from Margaret “Peggy” Dupuis as treasurer for the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances;
•passed a bylaw to appoint Laurie Witherspoon as a deputy treasurer for the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances, effective Nov. 28, 2005;
•received, with appreciation for service, a letter of resignation from David Lovisa from the Planning Advisory committee; and
•referred a request from the Fort Frances Women’s and Girls’ Hockey Association for financial sponsorship of their eighth-annual hockey tournament to the Administration and Finance executive committee for recommendation.
John Harrison, general manager at the Abitibi-Consolidated pulp and paper mill here, was scheduled to speak at Monday night’s council meeting but could not make it due to the weather.
Mayor Onichuk said he hopes Harrison can be rescheduled to appear at the next council meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12.