• John Jantak

Increased property taxes putting strain on St. Lazare seniors


JOHN JANTAK

St. Lazare resident Richard Masys told council members at the January 13 council meeting that the 3.8 per cent property tax increase that was adopted by the town at a special council meeting last December is putting many seniors who live on fixed incomes in a precarious financial bind.

St. Lazare’s 3.8 per cent property tax increase that was announced when town council presented and adopted its 2015 municipal budget at a special council meeting last December is putting many seniors who live on fixed incomes in a precarious financial bind, according to resident Richard Masys.

Th e issue was raised by Masys during the first question period at the Tuesday evening council meeting on January 13, saying the property tax increase has resulted in a “bumpy start to the New Year” because homeowners are continuously being forced to shoulder ever increasing costs. Masys, who relies mostly on government pensions to fund his retirement, said the constant annual increases in municipal property taxes is making life harder for seniors who are increasingly finding it difficult to make ends meet.

He also worries about how he’ll be able to finance a major household expense such as having to have his roof redone. “You have to pay hydro, car insurance, house insurance, school taxes and after all that, there’s no money for anything else,” said Masys. “Where else do you cut back, on food? I’ve already cut back on my other discretionary expenses as much as I can.”

Masys suggested that the town should consider adopting a deferred taxation scheme for seniors living on fixed incomes that would cap property taxes at a specific level indefinitely until the property is sold, at which time the total amount of unpaid deferred taxes would be repaid to the municipality.

“We’ve been looking into it, but the problem is that we need provincial regulation and support to implement this type of plan,” Grimaudo told Your Local Journal after the meeting. “In fact, British Columbia has a deferred taxation program for seniors who are on fixed incomes. It is a wonderful idea, but we recently found out that St. Lazare or any other municipality in Quebec can’t do that because we need provincial backing to implement the plan.”

Grimaudo said the 3.8 per cent rise in property taxes is primarily due to costs related to recent necessary infrastructure upgrades that have been long overdue, such as the new municipal garage and $9 million spent on the town’s water treatment plant. “You have to remember that there was a period between 2000 and 2010 when there was a lot of construction in St. Lazare,” said Grimaudo.

That was the time to have invested in our infrastructure but it wasn’t being done. We’re now paying to upgrade the infrastructure that should have been done then.” Masys also questioned whether the town’s revitalization plan aimed at rejuvenating the downtown core by building a town square is worth the expenditure, saying the project isn’t needed and the cost involved will unnecessarily increase the average homeowners’ tax burden.

The town recently spent just over $1 million to purchase four houses on Poirier Street that will be demolished to make room for the proposed town square. “We have no money to spend on something like this,” said Masys. “I would have rather they scrapped this idea than to spend money we don’t have.” But for Grimaudo, the purpose of revitalizing St. Lazare’s downtown core is essential to help the town generate more tax revenue.

“If you don’t break eggs, you can’t make a cake or an omelet,” said Grimaudo. “Yes, there will be money that will need to be spent. If we don’t, people will not come to the downtown area to spend which will inevitably lead to money being spent elsewhere when it could be spent here which will generate additional tax revenue.”

Grimaudo added that the downtown revitalization proposal is still in the preliminary stage and that a lot of planning and consultation work is required before the town even considers proceeding with any type of construction project and that no work is slated for 2015. “This proposal is far from ready to begin,” said Grimaudo. “There’s still a lot of work that has to be done such as consulting with the merchants before we can even start breaking ground.”

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