Simpson agrees on block funding
Money talks complete but approval pending

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Apr 11/97) - Fort Simpson and territorial government negotiators have reached common ground in negotiations over block funding for the community.

After nearly two months of negotiations with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, village council passed a motion Monday to send the proposal application to the financial management board for its approval.

"I think it's worked out quite well," said Fort Simpson Mayor Norm Prevost. "We will be having total flexibility."

But cabinet will also have to give its approval before the village sees any money, and any decision won't be made until mid-May, after the legislative assembly resumes for another session.

If passed, the village will be gaining control over a total of $7,184,763 million over a three-year period.

Capital projects will receive $3,450,000, about $150,000 short of what the village wanted, and operation and maintenance will get $2,609,313 which is on parr with the village's mindset.

The deal also calls for the village to receive a special debt reduction of $225,150 each year to help cover its debt load, and another $150,000 a year to help pay for a sewer line overhaul and paving on main street.

The village was hoping to receive twice the amount for sewer funding but decided to go with the settlement anyway since it wasn't sure it would receive any funding for the project at all.

"It's certainly is quite a step for them," senior village administrator John Crisp told council.

The territorial government still has the authority to decrease overall funding, meaning the village would receive the same percentage of deductions as the territorial government. Fort Smith received a 10 per cent cut in its funding this year to go along with the territorial government's reduction.

But Fort Simpson may still be able to access funding for emergencies and extraordinary circumstances, such as the slow erosion of the banks of the Mackenzie River around Fort Simpson.

Prevost said a block funding arrangement would benefit the village by letting them plan for the future on their own.

"We'll be making decisions over what projects to do and where to shift the money," he explained.

Aside from the $3 million sewer line replacement project which is expected to go ahead this summer, the village hopes to continue plans to renovate the arena building to accommodate a bigger and more accessible community hall.

Earlier, the territorial government had deferred the project, which was second on the capital projects priority list with the village this year.

Currently, the village works on a five-year plan with the territorial government in which it recommends projects on a priority basis for the cabinet to consider, approve or defer until the next year.

"It's really hard to work that way," Prevost said.

Fort Simpson dream of having more control over its responsibilities may come crashing down should the financial management board or cabinet refuse the proposal.

But MLA Jim Antoine was confident the deal would get the thumbs-up.

"Other communities haven't had any problems getting approval," he said.

And that's music to the ears of the village, which is hoping to receive the first payment later this spring. In subsequent years, payments would be made in nine increments.

"We want to get on with it, and get going," Prevost said.