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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Budget, roads Most of district expecting lean year among priorities for 2010: mayor
By Peggy Revell Staff writer By Duane Hicks Staff writer With town council and administration poised to dig into the 2010 budget later this month, Mayor Roy Avis is confident they will find a way to minimize the impact on taxpayers. I think the budgets going to go quite smoothly this year. I see us not having a major increase, he remarked Monday. Id like to see us stay as close to zero as possible but I know thats always the case, the mayor admitted, adding the cost of living increase in the past year was 1.8 percent and if the levy increase was kept in that range, hed like to see it happen. I think we will be looking at all services very closely, well be scrutinizing all services, and we will find where we can cut if we can cut because we want to try and maintain the same level of service and try to do it at a better price, he stressed. At its Dec. 21 meeting, council received the preliminary 2010 operating and capital budget, which indicated an almost $410,000 shortfall as well as about $10 million in capital spending. At that time, council also approved a two percent increase for the majority of user fees in 2010. Some new considerations in the 2010 budget so far range from a $140,000 increase in the OPP budget to a proposal from the Economic Development Advisory Committee to establish a new Economic Development Commission, which would replace the EDAC and have a little more powerand a dedicated budgetto work on economic development projects. The first special committee of the whole meeting on the budget is set for Jan. 18. Budget meetings will continue to be held every two weeks until March 22, at which time it is hoped the budget will be ready for ratification. A public meeting then will be held April 12, with the anticipated passage of the budget April 26. One major project on the schedule this year is the completion of the so-called biomass road project. This will involve the reconstruction of the roads, as well as sewer and water infrastructure, on Portage Avenue from First Street to Third Street and Fifth Street to Sixth Street. We might be slightly interrupting travel under the subway once we start into doing the sewer and water at either end, the mayor said. It will have to be possibly shut down for a couple days while we tie in the sewer and water lines, but we dont expect it to be long interruptions. Last summer, Nelson Street from Portage Avenue to Victoria Avenue, Victoria Avenue from Nelson Street to Front Street, and Portage Avenue from Nelson to First Street was overhauled. Meanwhile, this spring or early summer is expected to see completion of the new Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre, which Mayor Avis said will be a definite asset to the community once opened. The library is on track, he noted. I just had a conversation with the library board chair, Joyce Cunningham, and its right on track. The new library was a major source of controversy last year, with many people lobbying for it but some members of council reluctant to spend millions of dollars on the project. It finally got the go-ahead last June after a major stimulus funding influx from senior levels of government. I have always thought the library would be a benefit to the community but the town could not afford the size of the facility required to house the library and the technology centre, Mayor Avis said. It was beyond our reach financially unless we took on a tremendous amount of long-term debt, he argued. And by receiving that money, we were able to do that project. Its coming in right on budget is my understanding, the mayor added. It will be a real asset to the community. Were more interested, now that its moving forward, in making sure its operated properly and things like that take place. Another venture for the town will be as the new owners of Sunny Cove Camp, which council voted unanimously to purchase from the Fort Frances Kiwanis Club back in October. The camp will be operated by the towns Community Services executive committee while the new Sunny Cove Camp committee, which consists of town councillors, Kiwanians, and citizens, will provide input into the operation. Mayor Avis said the town also is hopeful for stimulus funding from senior levels of government. If we were to get another influx of stimulus money, too, we do have shovel-ready projects, he remarked. Projects the mayor would like to see done, but which will depend on the availability of government funding, include the reconstruction of Crowe Avenue from Front Street to Scott Street, fixing Fifth Street (which is in dire need of repairs), and the reconstruction of Scott Street from just east of Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East. As for highlights of 2009, Mayor Avis said he was pleased to see the Portage Avenue underpass finally completed after three summers of construction. Pumphouse upgrades still have to be done this year, but that will not affect subway traffic, he noted. Another highlight was Phase II of the Heritage Tourism Project, which included the relocation and refurbishing of the lookout tower and Hallett, as well as the additional landscaping and new street signs. And come spring, the project also will include banners and interpretive panels detailing aspects of local historyjust in time for both residents and tourists to enjoy. It looks very, very good and will be a real asset, enthused Mayor Avis. Theres a lot of people I have talked about it and theyre happy with it. Municipalities across the district took full advantage of the economic stimulus funding that flowed in 2009, but many local leaders are predicting 2010 will be a drier year. The cupboards are going to be bare [this] year, theres no doubt about it, said Alberton Reeve Mike Hammond, who foresees some downloading to municipalities in the coming months. Alberton took advantage of every grant they could get a hold of in 2009, Reeve Hammond noted, so the township has gotten in pretty good shape and should be able to handle any real bad downturn. These projects included a new fire hall, 4.5 km of hard surface roads, and playground equipment, as well funds to work on the skating rinks shack (although time constraints means this will be done in 2010). We got some road improvements on Ducharme Road, culverts, which should do the municipality good for the next 65 years, Reeve Hammond said. Weve done a lot of stuff that will benefit the municipality in years to come, he added. We get these culverts put asidethats $180,000 that are good now for 65 years, which if we had to replace five years from now, we wouldnt have the money, the reeve explained. Thanks to the government, even if we have to pay back a little back at a time, it wont hurt us. In La Vallee, 2009 meant some major construction, noted Reeve Emily Watson, including the replacement of the Black Bridge on La Vallee Road South, which cost more than $1 million, and repairs to Cain and Pyne Roadall of which happened thanks to government funding. But while the township accessed what funding it could to take care of their most pressing problems, Reeve Watson doubts they will be seeing any government grants for some time to come. La Vallee also received notification that Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding is being reduced in 2010. Thats going to present some challenges to our municipality, she admitted. We dont have a huge industrial tax base or anything like thatits farm land and residentialso anything thats reduced from the government then has to come from the taxpayer through land taxes. So thats going to be a challenge. As well, places like the Northwestern Health Unit have received a larger portion of their funding from the province but have kept their levy to municipalities at the same level, Reeve Watson noted. Its a challenge to try and balance all of this stuff, she remarked. And while through DSSAB the Ontario Works budget is going to be reduced, theyre starting to plan for their budget for 2010 and looking at additional money from the municipalities to cover social housing. We just cant seem to get ahead so its quite challenging. The Rainy River District Municipal Association will hold its annual general meeting at the end of January and these sort of challenges will be discussed, said Reeve Watson, who currently is president of the organization. By that time, by the end of January, all of this OMPF funding will be in place so theres really not a lot of impact that were going to be able to have, she explained. But we have been talking through our Association of Municipalities of Ontario and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association representatives to carry our concerns. Despite rumblings about funding cuts, Emo Mayor Ed Carlson thinks senior government will come through with financing in the end. Im optimistic and Im not going to start worrying about that until [it happens] because it very well may not be anything to worry about, he reasoned. Thats the position were taking. We choose to see it as something thats a necessary thing that we go through all the time, Mayor Carlson said. Its never a guaranteed thing, but its always been there and Im expecting it to be there this year again. If it doesnt, yes, indeed, there will be challenges for us, for sure, and well have to deal with them as they come, he added. You can sit and worry about stuff like that, but in the end it doesnt help you any, he argued. Id rather deal with positives that are actually there, for sure. For Emo, 2009 was a very, very busy year, said Mayor Carlson, who also extended thanks to the many, many people of the community and surrounding area whose volunteer work over the past year helped make a difference. Projects included the completion of some major road construction, the building of the abattoir (which should be functioning in the not too distant future), the splash park (which is close to completion), as well as water and sewage installation through the villages industrial park area. With the assistance of grant money given to La Vallee, work also has been done to the shared Emo-La Vallee Community Centre, Mayor Carlson noted, including energy cost-saving initiatives and looking into upgrades to the handicapped washrooms. One of the challenges that we had was we need to upgrade our water and sewer, particularly our water treatment plant, the mayor said about what work still needs to be done in Emo. So were trying to work with the provincial [and] federal government on that respect. Thats a challenge that will be carried over into 2010 that, hopefully, we can get all the funding in place and get that up and operating more efficiently. Meanwhile, Mayor Carlson said hes quite optimistic about the upcoming year. I know things are probably going to be a little bit tighter on both the federal and provincial side, [but] I know theres federal dollars still out there, probably due to the fact that some people werent shovel-ready, he explained. So that money is rolled back and might be available to others that are shovel-readyand our water treatment plant is shovel-ready to go, so hopefully we can dip into some of that a little bit more and capitalize on our ability to jump ahead with that process. Over in Chapple, improvements to recreational facilities were the big projects in 2009. We replaced an old skating rink and its up and running, providing an outlet for our young people in town, said Reeve Peter Van Heyst. And the ball diamond has been completed, and its something to keep the community together. As far as all municipal works,

we were kind of disappointed not getting the funding we needed to replace a bridge, but maybe it will come in this coming year, Reeve Van Heyst added. As usual, the challenge for the upcoming year is to stay within budget, he noted. I guess were disappointed [with] some of the funding cuts that the province put in place, the reeve admitted. Weve been cut back over $60,000 in the onetime funding. Still, Reeve Van Heyst wanted to wish Chapples citizens all the best for the coming year. And we hope that the local industry, the strandboard mill, can keep operating and supply employment for our citizens in the district, he said. Things went pretty well, Morley Reeve Gary Gamsby said of the past year. If I remember correctly, no tax increase, so thats always good. About the only big project this past year was finishing up a municipal drain, he noted, adding that this year the plan is to continue working as a region to bring some life back into the forestry industry and the economy of Northwestern Ontario. But looking ahead, its going to be hard because the province has changed the funding formula for municipalities and some municipalities are going to get hit quite hard and I think were one of them, Reeve Gamsby warned. So Im concerned about that. It will probably mean a tax increase or a reduction of services, or a combination of both. Reeve Gamsby placed the cuts for Morley at roughly $31,000representing about 12 percent of the townships annual budget. The only goal is to try to mitigate the effect of the funding reduction, he stressed about the upcoming year. We have to keep working away at trying to improve the economy and get our fair share of whats out there, the reeve added. And well have to be patient with the provincial government because theyre going to have to deal with the huge deficit and theyre probably going to be starting with that pretty quickly, and thats going to affect us all. So thats something we have to watch for, Reeve Gamsby said.

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