Town to stick with RRFDC

It may have been a unanimous vote but it wasn’t an easy pitch for Geoff Gillon, community investment manager for the Rainy River Future Development Corp., to get the town to sign on again for 1999.
Council agreed Monday to pay the RRFDC $58,000 for regional economic development as it did last year–dollars which then are matched by FedNor.
But it took several months for council to make this decision, having seriously considered pulling out of the regional agreement and buying services from the RRFDC on a case-by-case basis instead.
Coun. Dave Bourgeault told the committee of the whole he was concerned whether Fort Frances was seeing $58,000 of economic development for the $58,000 it puts in, especially considering three municipalities–Alberton, Dawson, and Morley–are not paying into the regional plan.
Coun. Roy Avis echoed Coun. Bourgeault’s concerns, wondering how much of the FedNor money the town’s contribution to the RRFDC generates stays in Fort Frances.
“I had a person in my office today to discuss the benefits of Futures [but] I want to make sure Fort Frances residents are getting their money’s worth,” he said.
But Mayor Glenn Witherspoon noted for the town to run its own economic development office, it might be looking almost $100,000 in costs. He backed the economic development advisory committee’s recommendation to stay with the RRFDC.
Meanwhile, CAO Bill Naturkach pointed out the arrangement wouldn’t be forever, saying the legislation for Area Service Boards (ASBs) includes economic development under its mandate where municipalities could not opt out of the program.
“It’s a reasonable imbalance for now,” Naturkach said. “We can’t be misserved by [the RRFDC].”
During the regular council meeting Monday evening, Coun. Deane Cunningham told Gillon there was some concern if the town was getting a fair return for its cash.
“If we choose to participate for 1999, can we put a direct finger on what our money is providing for us in return?” he asked.
Coun. Avis was more direct, asking since Fort Frances generates about 20 percent of the RRFDC’s annual $510,000 budget, “Do we get our 20 percent worth?”
Gillon noted it was hard, in many cases, to discern what was Fort Frances’ projects and what wasn’t. While the selling of industrial lots in town is clearly earmarked as Fort Frances, other initiatives–like the cellular phone project and the safe community initiatives–are spread district-wide.
In fact, of the $250,000 in rebates from workers’ compensation to the 92 businesses involved in the workplace safety program, 61 of those are in Fort Frances.
“It’s economic development that comes from a different angle,” Gillon explained.
He also argued having municipalities pay a regional fee once a year gave the RRFDC more power when it came to jumping at opportunities, such as the Manitoba-Ontario-Minnesota (MOM’s) highway project.
“We want to be at the table with the Americans and the Manitobans with $10,000 guaranteed,” Gillon noted. “I didn’t have to go the municipalities to raise it. I went to my committee, and they internalized the project.
“That’s why I’m in favour of the regional thing,” he added. “It gives us a bigger pool of money. When we had the smaller corporations, you couldn’t do very much and you were forever chasing partners.
“We want to have the fund and the resources to go forward,” he stressed.