Three Items from the Fort Frances 2022 Capital Budget
On January 31, 2022, Council adopted the Town of Fort Frances' 2022 capital budget. Here are three items of community interest from the meeting:
1. No Support for Splash Pad
I voted against the capital budget because I felt that Council's direction on the splash pad project was not followed.
On December 13, 2021, Council adopted a resolution which stated, "That funds be considered in the 2022 capital budget for the design of related infrastructure to support a future splash pad at the desired location."
Despite this clear direction, there was no line item for the splash pad project in the 2022 capital budget.
While I appreciate that administration wishes to put in place a recreation plan for the community before advancing this project, we could have moved ahead with the preliminary stages of planning and development. As a result of this budget decision, young families will have to wait even longer for this new amenity - one requested by public petition.
This is a setback and I am disappointed in the lost momentum on this project. That said, I am optimistic about the renewed focus by administration on developing a recreation strategy. With appropriate leadership from the next Council, this will be a positive step for the community that will hold the municipality accountable for its role in providing recreational amenities and services.
2. Potential Municipal Grant for Skating Path
Council received a request from the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) Committee asking that funds be used to create an outdoor skating path on Rainy Lake, similar to those available in other communities.
Administration's responsive report did not support this request. While I am not convinced that their concerns are insurmountable, the reality is that the purpose of the MAT is to develop new tourism attractions and community amenities. Capitalizing on winter activities is a great way to do that. (Frankly, Council has not done enough in response to requests from the MAT Committee during this term, and I am concerned that we are sending the wrong message to the community organizations and business owners involved in this committee.)
Because it was clear Council would not agree to fund this project for next winter, as a compromise, I suggested that the Town offer a fixed-amount grant to a partner organization that wanted to spearhead it instead. Council agreed that this be considered as part of our 2022 operating budget, which has yet to be approved.
3. Phair Avenue Park Improvements Greenlighted
Earlier in 2021, I brought forward a proposal to expand and improve the Phair Avenue Park, in order to provide new green space to that neighbourhood - something needed in light of the pending redevelopment of the St. Michael's School property.
Administration has estimated the cost of this project at just over $400,000, and they have applied for $322,000 in grant funding from other levels of government, with the municipality funding the difference. The Town will only proceed with the project if its grant application is successful.
I am pleased to report that Council agreed to move ahead with the Phair Avenue Park project by approving it as part of the 2022 capital budget. Hopefully the Town will receive the financial contribution it has applied for to turn this vision into a reality.
Next Steps in the Budget Process
The capital budget relates to the assets of the municipality - such as property, equipment, and infrastructure. The other part of our budgeting process relates to operations.
The 2022 operating budget will be the subject of further Council deliberations over the next few special meetings of Committee of the Whole.
Council's agendas and materials are available online to members of the public here.