Town worried about mill assessment appeal

Duane Hicks

AbitibiBowater (AbiBow) Canada Inc. has filed an appeal with the provincial Assessment Review Board for its mill property in Fort Frances, leaving the town very concerned about the significant impact it could have on the town’s budget.
The town was notified May 4 that AbiBow had filed an appeal covering the years 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The company is looking to have the assessment lowered from $28,260,000 to no more than $15,010,000.
If AbiBow’s appeal is completely successful, the town will be required to make a retroactive payment of roughly $2.2 million for the municipal portion of the adjustment to AbiBow for the years 2009-11.
The assessment reduction also would diminish tax revenues for the town by roughly $800,000 on an annual basis, which represents an 8.4401 percent residential tax increase.
“Whenever you see something of this magnitude, it’s a shock,” Mayor Roy Avis said this morning.
“Council immediately is going to have to sit and take a look [at] what the implications would be if this was to be successful,” he noted.
“The real problem is that they’re going back to 2009, and all that money has already been spent,” Mayor Avis explained.
“If they get an award for 2009, 2010, 2011, we’ve already completed our budgets, we’ve already spent the money,” he stressed.
“We’ve paid money out to uncontrollables based on our tax base, and all of the sudden we’re faced with having to refund $2.2 million if they are successful.
“Where do we get the money?” he wondered.
Mayor Avis also said that going forward, the town would have $800,000 less revenue on an annual basis.
If the town wanted to remain status quo with its services, that would translate into a 8.44 percent tax hike, which added to any other tax increases for cost of living, for example, would not be acceptable.
“You’re looking at a huge amount of money. People in the community, we can’t expect them to pay that,” the mayor remarked.
“Council’s got a big job on their plates in the next 12-18 months,” he warned. “Going forward, council is to have to really sit down and take a look at the cost of service delivery in the community.
“We don’t want to overreact, but we have to react.”
The mayor could not say when the town may hear back regarding the results of AbiBow’s appeal to the Assessment Review Board.