Counties start annual budget wrestling match
It’s coming out of the corner weighing in at almost five-and-a-half per cent but the eight mayors on counties council hope to tag-team wrestle the tax rate increase for the 2018 Prescott-Russell budget down to three-and-a-half.
Julie Ménard-Brault, finance director for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), presented counties council Wednesday with a summary of the first draft of the 2018 budget.
“It is a budget that has everything that council asked for or approved,” Ménard-Brault said. “I think it’s a good first draft.”
The one thing all eight mayors did not like about the report was the 5.4 per cent tax rate increase that came with the budget draft. Based on provincial property assessment guidelines for 2017, homeowners in Prescott-Russell pay $403.36 for every $100,000 worth of assessed value of their house and property. If the preliminary counties budget report was approved as is without any changes, that would result in a $21 increase for every $100,000 assessed value to the UCPR portion of the property tax bill for an average home in Prescott-Russell.
During the half-hour discussion that followed Ménard-Brault’s report summary, Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux noted that council needs to maintain perspective on how a 5.4 per cent increase in the tax rate for the average homeowners would mean in the real world if it were spread out over a year.
“We’re looking at the cost of two large coffees a month,” he said, adding that there is room to make adjustments to the budget to reduce the impact, though some kind of tax rate increase is unavoidable for the counties after the past few years of avoiding the need for a rate increase.
“Five-point-four per cent is a scary number when you look at it just on the surface,” Leroux admitted. “But previous (counties) councils decided to stay at zero per cent (rate increase) at all costs, so this is where we are now.”
Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Des- jardins objected to a possible 5.4 per cent increase to the counties tax rate, fearing the possible impact on his own municipality’s future growth potential. He noted that Clarence-Rockland is next door to Orléans and competes with that Ottawa suburb for both new residential and commercial development.
Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois agreed that the preliminary budget report does include every item on the counties’ wish list but she objected to the idea of a large tax rate increase to pay for those wishes.
“I still find five per cent too high,” she said. “I cannot support that.”
Both Ménard-Brault and Stéphane Pari- sien, UCPR chief administrator, reminded them that the report includes all items that the mayors have asked, over the past year, for consideration in the 2018 budget.
“If you took out everything council asked us to put in,” Parisien explained, “you’d be at zero (tax rate increase).”
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Mayor Desjardins, adding that borrowing for some wish list items could avoid the need for a 5.4 per cent rate hike.
“I’m prepared to borrow, if it’s not big amounts,” he added, “and it can be paid off over a few years.”
“I won’t support a budget that creates debt,” argued Mayor Robert Kirby of East Hawkesbury. “It goes against my mentality. You can borrow today, but you have to pay for it later.”
Most of council agreed in the end to have administration review the draft and present a follow-up report at the Oct. 25 regular session, with recommendations to bring the tax rate increase down to 3.5 per cent.
Les maires de Prescott-Russell ont un vrai défi devant eux avec le budget de 2018. Un rapport préliminaire indique une augmentation possible de 5,4 % du taux de l’impôt foncier pour l’année prochaine s’il n’y a aucun changement dans les éléments du rapport préliminaire. Le conseil des comtés a demandé à l’administration un rapport révisé montrant comment obtenir une augmentation maximale de 3,5 % du taux d’imposition.