Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC protesting policing costs
YLJ FILE PHOTO/CARMEN MARIE FABIO
All 23 towns in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC are passing a motion in supporting of recuperating
money reportedly overpaid for the region’s policing services from the Sûreté du Québec.
Following a motion adopted at the February 25 meeting of the mayors of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC, this month is seeing the 23 member towns passing a motion at their respective municipal council meetings in support of the MRC to pressure the provincial government to reimburse funds reportedly overpaid for Sûreté du Québec (SQ) policing services for the last five years, an amount the MRC has calculated to be $28.5 million.
“According to the laws that govern us, we can only speak by motion or by-law,” said MRC-VS (Municipalité régionale de comté Vaudreuil-Soulanges) Executive Director and Secretary Treasurer Guy-Lin Beaudoin. “So we’re sending a message to the government by a motion and we’re hoping they will hear our concerns.”
When it was decided in 2002 by the Ministry of Public Security that off - island municipalities would use policing services of the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), the agreement was for towns to absorb 53 per cent of the operating costs. The MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges is currently paying 111.10 per cent of the region’s policing costs.
“We have a very low crime rate,” said Beaudoin. “For an area that has no issues, we’re paying a lot.”
“It was not our choice (to sign this agreement),” said Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon. “It was the choice of the Minstry who didn’t want any municipal police between the Ontario border and the Island of Montreal.”
Besides local policing, the SQ services include protection of Premier Philippe Couillard, all the ministers, national inquiries into organized criminal activities, Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC), as well as special event and crises management warranting SQ services.
“The problem is the Quebec Government discovered that not all the municipalities in the province have the means to pay 53 per cent of the cost.” Beaudoin said that instead of implementing a per capita payment system, the amount charged was determined by the tax assessment.
The Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC, having a comparatively higher assessment than a number of the other provincial MRCs has been saddled with a greater proportion of the policing price-tag.
“We’re supposed to pay for the service we use,” echoed St. Lazare Mayor Robert Grimaudo. “What we’re doing now is we’re paying more. We’re paying over and above the service that we’re using.”
“The government is only reimbursing us the difference between the 111.1 per cent and 80 per cent, or $6.8 million. For $28 million, we can build a lot of things,” said Beaudoin. “It’s a question of justice and equity.”
He said the MRC would be amenable to the government awarding grants to less affluent areas of the province in order to ensure all regions have the same quality policing. The Bonaventure MRC located in New Carlisle shoulders only 18.69 per cent of its policing costs.
“Usually, the transfer payment is done at the provincial level, not on five MRCs,” said Beaudoin, indicating the payment assessment should be calculated against income tax and not municipal tax evaluation, the latter resulting in what he described as quadruple taxation.
“All over Quebec, we have the same level of policing. Except we (in Vaudreuil-Soulanges) are paying more and more. If we want to maintain a provincial level of policing, education, or healthcare, transfer payments need to be done at the provincial level, not at the local level. This is totally unfair for our population,” said Beaudoin, describing how residents pay income and property taxes for their own services, plus an addition property tax for residents not living in the very municipalities generating the tax dollars.
“Our costs keep increasing while other MRCs have stayed the same or decreased,” said Grimaudo. “We’re basically paying for (policing for) the smaller MRCs. We’ve been overpaying and want them to stop charging so much and return the money that we’ve overpaid,” said Grimaudo, describing the disproportionate payment as a lack of adjustment over growth.
Vaudreuil MNA Marie-Claude Nichols and Soulanges MNA Lucie Charlebois met with Beaudoin, and Assistant General Managers Mylène Blais and Raymond Malo March 16, 2015, to discuss the issue.
“We exchanged our view on the subject (of policing costs),” Charlebois told Your Local Journal, “and we are going to organize a meeting for the residents of the MRC with the Public Security Deputy Ministers.” The meeting is scheduled for the end of May, pending availability. “There has been an agreement since 2006 to make transfer-payments and if we didn’t have that agreement, it would cost the MRC a lot more (for policing), in the neighbourhood of $45 million,” said Charlebois. “It was at the request of the FQM (Fédération québécoise des municipalités) and other municipal organizations that we had that partnering agreement for the transfer-payments.”
Charlebois said there is also an exceptional measure in the law that says we can have the services of the SQ under the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM). “It’s a good thing because the reimbursement share of the costs of the bill, for Level 2 policing (serving between 100,000 and 249,999 inhabitants) would be far greater.” Charlebois said not only would the bill be significantly higher with the pre-existing municipal police forces, they lacked the specialized equipment the SQ currently has at its disposal.
Beaudoin said he understands the Vaudreuil and Soulanges Minsters’ position on the issue. He told Your Local Journal the MRC is hesitant to pursue the matter legally due to the potential associated costs involved.
“We already overpaid $28.5 million.” “It’s the two unions that say it’s totally unfair that the government is using the property tax to give a national service in education with the school boards. If it’s unfair for the school boards, it should be unfair for the police too. We want them to be congruent and consistent in their message. Property taxes should be reserved to give local services, not provincial services.”
When asked if the motions passed by the 23 towns of the MRC are part of a pressure campaign, Beaudoin replied, “It’s our role to defend the rights of our people, and (in doing so) we will put all the pressure we can, of course.”
Citing cuts that already saw the MRC begin this fiscal year with an operating budget at $985,000 less than last year, Beadoin said if the Quebec government wants to use equalization payments for the entire province, the entire province should support it and not just a minority.
Beaudoin reiterated a solution is available at a political level without having to resort to legal means, should the political will exist.