Town to start 2005 budget talks soon

With the municipal election taking place last November, town council had no choice but to start working on the 2004 budget late last year.
But Mayor Dan Onichuk vowed that won’t be the case for the 2005 budget, with the process slated to get underway later this month.
“We have a proposed schedule of budget meetings drawn up,” he noted yesterday. The schedule will be up for approval at Monday’s regular council meeting.
Mayor Onichuk said council and town management would “try to turn back the clock about six months” on the budget process this time around, referring to the fact the 2004 budget was not passed until this past May.
“We want to be able to sit down and have a drink together at Christmas, and be able to say we’ve passed the budget,” he remarked.
The mayor said the schedule will be sure to include some public meetings on the budget as the town is committed to getting input from taxpayers and making the budget process “transparent.”
He also admitted all concerned learned from last year’s budget process, in which the town at one point faced a $2.7-million shortfall. In the end, that meant user fee hikes and a 7.6 percent residential tax increase for the people of Fort Frances.
Council has been striving “to get our financial ship in shape,” receiving regular divisional reports, finding efficiencies, and setting priorities.
Mayor Onichuk added the budget process ties into the strategic planning process the town started in the spring, where the aim is “to take a look at the operation of the corporation, where we want to be in the next few years, [and] what is the long-term financial plan for the community.”
While he could not say much about possible major issues in the 2005 budget prior to the first meeting, Mayor Onichuk did stress reconstructing the Portage Avenue underpass was a high-priority project that can’t wait any longer to be done.