Town’s 2020 budget brings tax increase

Ken Kellar

The town budget for 2020 is in the books.
At Monday night’s town council meeting, Town of Fort Frances treasurer Dawn Galusha presented the finalized 2020 Budget, which sees a residential tax increase of 3.24 percent and a number of challenges -including COVID-19- that we might not see the full impact of until years down the road.
“Council has a difficult task of balancing the needs of the community, maintaining acceptable service levels and making every effort to strengthen the local economy, while providing fairness in taxation and value in service to our residents,” Galusha said.
“With the closure of the mill several years ago, the future of the Large Industrial Class tax base for the mill properties is still unknown. OPP costs are increasing and reconciled two years later which could have a significant impact in future years. As always, the town is impacted by provincial downloading and regulatory responsibilities. Escalating operating costs, as well as ageing infrastructure and growing infrastructure deficit. Also, we are all impacted by COVID-19 and its uncertainty on our community.”
In total, the 2020 budget will see a decrease of $1,451,348 in revenues and expenditures from the 2019 budget, due in part to the decision by the province to move daycares out of the town’s purview.
Despite the decrease in the overall budget, and in light of the items like the mill that the town will need to keep an eye on economically, Town of Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown said that overall the town is in good shape.
“From a financial point of view, we hardly have any long term debt, we do have reserve, and we are maintaining taxes in accordance to CPI, Consumer Price Indexing, for the last couple of years, so I think we’re in a good financial place, but there’s a lot of unknowns,” Brown said.
“We do have aging infrastructure and the mill and how we come out of COVID, those three things are going to impact us financially for the future. I think, we’re a border town, like any other northwestern Ontario municipality that loses a major industry, we gotta try and find something to replace that taxation loss. That is going to be a critical path for us going forward in our strategic plan. We need to find jobs or assessment to help community stay afloat.”
The final balanced budget for 2020 comes to just over $41-million dollars, including the capital budget and both the operating budgets for the town’s sewer and water.
Galusha noted that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they would keep an eye on how things start to pan out as the year continues in order to determine the overall effect the virus will have on the municipality and budget.
“Obviously there’s a lot of loss of revenue, whether it’s the MAT tax or the sport centre,” she said.
“It’s unknown to all of us, so we’ll just continue making sure we make wise choices for the whole of the community to ensure that we are in a positive situation at the end of the year.”
Also revealed during the budget presentation was that the town is not going to be operating the tourism information centre this year. Money for the centre was originally planned to come from the MAT tax, but the expected decrease of tourists both from other provinces and the United States means that the tourist information centre won’t be used as frequently this year. Additionally, the decrease in tourism means the MAT tax will bring in less money as well, so cutting the tourism information centre for the season will further reduce the strain on MAT tax funds.
During Mayor June Caul’s verbal update to council, she noted that as the weather warms up, and as the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board’s (RRDSSAB) agreement to provide shelter for homeless individuals at the Sleepy Owl Motel comes to a close, there could be an increase in visibility of these individuals on the street, and she encouraged the public to treat them with respect.
“These people are usually very friendly and good people, and we need to remember that they still deserve respect,” she said.
“If you feel threatened or uncomfortable, call the police and put in a complaint or concern.”
It was also suggested that council look into forming a committee with community partners to come up with a way to solve the problem the homeless population is facing, or to at least come up with a way to provide them temporary relief.
Another item that was decided at Monday night’s council meeting was the final fate of the flowers destined for the graveyards in town.
As reported in Monday’s Bulletin, a revamped report from the Operations and Facilities Executive Committee was read that suggested the town reimburse Hammonds Greenhouse for the sunk cost of the flowers that had originally been planned to go into the plots at both of the municipal cemeteries. The reduced workforce at the Parks and Cemeteries department due to the impacts of COVID-19 meant that it was not feasible to have the flowers planted as they normally are each year, and while it was originally suggested the town might give the already purchased flowers away to the public, councillors worried about the impacts that might have had on local greenhouses, instead suggesting an alternative solution be found.
It was agreed that the town would cover the sunk costs of the flowers, which Operations and Facilities Manager Travis Rob explained as the materials and work hours that had gone into growing them so far.
“There is the cost to purchase the seed to plant, which is planted earlier in the wintertime,” he said.
“There is the cost of time to plant the seeds, the trays that they’re planted in, the soil, and then there’s cost of taking the seed from a seed to a plant at the stage that it is right now, and then any costs above that to take it to, basically, a plantable flower. They will just stop working on the flowers as of right now, just to limit any potential increased costs moving forward.”
There are still some flowers that will be purchased from the greenhouse to cover a small number of municipal flower beds that will be planted this summer.
Town council also signed off on three new columbaria that will be purchased and installed at Riverview Cemetery in the town’s west end. Each of the new columbaria will honour a significant figure in the town’s history, with the selected individuals being Nancy Loutit Calder, Herbert Williams and Dr. David Croal McKenzie.
Also at last night’s meeting, council:
• awarded Tender T-2020-05 for MHSW Services to Host Household Hazardous Waste Events in Fort Frances to the Miller Group
• approved a report re: annual policy review
• approved a report re: implementation of Infection control policy with COVID-19 procedures
• heard a verbal update on Capital Projects
• received a letter dated April 22, 2020 from A. Bedard re: Sunny Cove
• received a letter dated April 29, 2020 from Borderland Pride re: Celebrating Pride in the Time of COVID-19.