Town sticking to province’s figures

The final numbers are in from the province and Fort Frances will use these figures–not those billed by the agencies–to decide how much municipal taxpayers will be paying for the “downloaded” services in 1998.
And if the agencies’ calculations are different, the town said the agencies will have to battle it out with the province.
At a special budget meeting last Thursday, the committee of the whole directed town management to develop a policy with regard to payment based on the final local services realignment–dubbed “download”–figures that arrived at the Civic Centre on March 31.
“The numbers that are presented by the agencies, do they equal these numbers? And if they do, then we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Coun. Dave Bourgeault noted.
But all the numbers don’t match. Dave Kozar, director of “Ontario Works” here, noted their numbers–which came from one provincial ministry–were different from those the town received from another one.
“Ours are still higher,” Kozar said yesterday. “Ours come from the Ministry of Community and Social Services regarding family benefits because that’s who bills us.”
For family benefits, Kozar said the figure given to district municipalities was $185,000 less than “Ontario Works.” That means Fort Frances would owe $107,000 more (58 percent) than the “download” number revealed.
And he warned the municipality would be billed for that amount, not the province.
“We’ll probably fight it out with the town,” Kozar said, adding “Ontario Works” estimated it would be $275,000 in the hole by the end of June.
For public health, the numbers are only out a bit. Dr. Pete Sarsfield, chief medical officer for the Northwestern Health Unit, said Fort Frances would be billed $527,480 in 1998.
According to the March 31 “download” numbers from the province, the town would have to pay $529,652.
Meanwhile, this will be a big change in the way the town has been paying for the “downloaded” service. CAO Bill Naturkach noted the town had been paying according to what the agency billed so far.
For budgeting purposes, though, it has been using province’s “download” numbers.
“The only time that we’ve used numbers that are not the downloading numbers are numbers that we could reasonable calculate ourselves, such as the residential education tax room,” noted Treasurer Carol Busch, adding their calculation was nowhere near the $687,000 the province spelled out.
Basically, Busch said, they’d been using the download numbers except in cases when the town found them to be incorrect.
“Are they correct now?” Mayor Witherspoon asked at Thursday’s meeting.
“No,” Busch said, but adding the difference was “small dollars.”
For instance, the figures from the province show the municipality is losing $2.1 million in the municipal support grant. But Busch stressed they had budgeted $2 million because that was what the grant from the province was in 1997.
The only changes they made, she explained, were the ones that could be readily identified.
“But I don’t think we can pick and choose,” Mayor Witherspoon noted. “Either we’re going to use all their dollar numbers or we’re not going to use any.”
The town will be notifying each agency once it develops a policy in writing, which is slated to come before council at its next regular meeting April 13.
Coun. Sharon Tibbs added they should put together a document that showed the difference between the agency’s numbers and the province’s, outlining per month what each agency can expect from the town.
“At the end of the year I don’t want to be sitting here saying, ‘Gee we’re $800,000 short, where do we get it?’” Coun. Bourgeault said.
But Naturkach noted if the municipality refused to pay a bill, the risk of the agency coming back at the end of the year was very real.
“If this is revenue neutral like they say it is, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing gives us numbers and say this is the money that we’re going to give you to operate that [service], then that’s the money we budget for and that’s the amount of money we pay the agency,” Coun. Deane Cunningham said.
“And I think if the agency has a problem with that, then they’d better go and talk to the government.”
Mayor Witherspoon agreed if that happened, the agency could go directly to the province with the remainder of the bill.