Challenging first year for Hudson mayor. Our ongoing series of area mayors one year into their four
CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Hudson Mayor Ed Prévost said he knew going into the job that it would have certain challenges as he reflects back on his first year in office.
In a year that revealed unexpected surprises including a broken dam and drained Pine Lake, the arrest of the former Director General, and the discovery of a $1.7 million budget deficit, newly elected Mayor Ed Prévost said he wouldn’t hesitate to take on the job even if he had known what he was getting himself into.
“A lot of people asked me if I really needed the aggravation,” said Prévost in an interview given just before the Christmas holidays. “But somebody needed to step up to the plate to try and help clean up the situation. We didn’t know, at the time, what the magnitude of the clean-up was going to be.” Prévost won the November 2013 election winning 76 per cent of the votes over his opposing candidate Jacques Bourgeois. Resident Gary MacDonald dropped out of the race shortly before Election Day.
In the year since, the team including newly hired Director General Catherine Haulard and the six councillors – five of whom were new to the job - have recouped almost all the outstanding $1.2 million owed in 2012 property taxes that were in default, a specific part of Prévost’s election platform. “Now that people know we’re serious about (collecting taxes), the amount outstanding for 2013 is a fraction of what it was when we first came into office,” he said of the $200,000 amount currently outstanding.
From the onset, Prévost said he made it a point to learn as much about municipal politics as possible, becoming actively involved with the Municipalité régionale de comté (MRC) and the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT). “Wherever I went, (members) were surprised to see someone from what they referred to as, ‘The Republic of Hudson’,” said Prévost.
He’s also met with members of Regroupement de Ouest, comprised of 30 West Island and Off -Island mayors. Along with local transport initiatives including CIT la Presqu’ile and Transport Soleil, Prévost opted to become part of Hudson’s TPAC (Town Planning and Advisory Committee) to help smooth what he describes as ‘bad blood’. “I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘Taliban Planning and Advisory Committee,’ he said.
Hudson, like other off island communities, is dealing with the Plan Métropolitain d’aménagement et de Développement (PMAD) in which towns are required to densify their population along transportation corridors and, as the mayor acknowledged, the town has not grown over the past 50 years, still hovering around 5000 residents. “But we’re now in business to do business,” said the mayor, outlining the steps council has made to engage the community via last spring’s public consultation sessions in which a compendium of all the residents’ 1000-plus comments and suggestions have been documented.
“We used that to build our strategic plan,” Prévost said of the plan’s best-case-scenario goals to increase the town’s population to 7000 over the next five years and houses are targeted to increase from 2625 to 3500. “There’s tax revenue there that is significant,” he said, “but we will build in an orderly manner so as not to detract from the character of Hudson.”
The mayor said a lack of growth will leave the town financially strapped, unable to provide quality services. Another part of the plan is to encourage tourism by capitalizing on the waterfront and promote the arts and culture aspects of the community, as well as the tri-cultural aspect of its geographical proximity to Oka.
The plan will be released publicly February 7. Prévost said council made necessary cost-cutting measures including reducing the six-member community patrol that had cost $400,000 annually, down to two members. Administration is also looking at the possibility of selling off parcels of land and unused or underused buildings currently owned by the town.
When asked how he felt about former Director General Louise LégerVillandré’s arrest on 19 fraud-related charges and subsequent news she’ll plead ‘not guilty,’ Prévost declined to comment other than to say, “UPAC don’t go to court just for the hell of going to court. They must feel pretty strongly that they have a case. The fact that she pleaded not guilty doesn’t mean that she’s not guilty.”
Prévost is equally resolved in discussing the lawsuit filed by the town’s previous accounting firm, Bourassa Boyer, and Hudson’s ensuing countersuit. “Their lawyer sent a letter saying I tainted their reputation as a professional accounting firm,” said Prévost, “and I should be held responsible for any resulting damages to their business.” He said that if the firm’s recommendations to Léger-Villandré between 2006 to 2012 were not carried out, the firm was obligated to follow-up with the mayor and council before going to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
“We will be reporting them to their own association that has a code of ethics and standards of governance that all accounting firms have to abide by.” Prévost said his aim is to achieve the goals outlined in the strategic plan over the next five years and bring Hudson back to a good financial state of health. “I’d like to see more commercial activity downtown in a revitalized city,” he said, “and smiles on people’s faces. It’s possible, other cities have done it, and so can we.”