Foundation problems, rising taxes, new town hall and festival spending dominate St. Lazare council q
PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK
St. Lazare resident Paola Irrera listens as Mayor Robert Grimaudo replies to a question about the projected $9.2 million cost for its new town hall.
St. Lazare Mayor Robert Grimaudo and the town’s councillors faced a barrage of questions from angry residents concerned about houses with foundation issues, steadily rising annual property taxes, the town’s new $9.2 million town hall, and the $350,000 projected cost of this year’s Festival au Galop, during question period at the Tuesday council meeting, February 2.
Resident Joanne Ackland, who faces a $60,000 price tag to stabilize her foundation on Rue Champêtre, asked Grimaudo whether he had spoken with Lucie Charlebois, the MNA for Soulanges regarding whether the provincial government has some sort of subsidy program available to help the residents with problematic foundations defray the cost of repairs.
Grimaudo replied that he had met with Charlebois and was informed that the province currently does not have any subsidy program and that the town will look into various options to see what it can do to help residents.
St. Lazare resident Celine Benssoussen, who works as a real estate agent and also lives in the Champêtre area, said she also has problems with her foundation and said the issue could be affecting several hundred households and called on the town to take serious steps to address the situation that she said has adversely affected people’s property values.
“I would like to know what the town will do to lower municipal property taxes because all the houses have lost value because of the foundation problems. The banks know about the problem and they have devalued the houses by up to $100,000 so it will be difficult to get refinancing,” said Benssoussen.
“It’s not the town that sets the tax rate, but the MRC de Vaudreuil-Soulanges,” replied Grimaudo. “You can apply to the MRC for a revaluation. I can’t go and tell them what houses should be re-evaluated. It’s up to each owner to do that.”
One resident suggested that the town could establish a long-term fund to help offset the cost of foundation repairs. “Maybe the city should create a long-term fund to address these issues. Come up with a comprehensive plan that you can propose to the people. Create a long-term plan to solve these problems. Every month I come here and hear about the problems, but there are no solutions.”
On the issue of constantly increasing property taxes, resident Bruce Waters asked Grimaudo whether four or five per cent annual property taxes will become the norm in future years, saying that many residents are finding it difficult to absorb the additional costs each year, most of which stem from the town’s infrastructure improvement projects from the past two to three years.
“We have new housing projects like the H-300 development and a new equestrian project coming up so hopefully these new projects will offset the expenses for the infrastructure projects,” said Grimaudo. “I’m hoping our taxes don’t go up four or five per cent every year. The reality is that I can’t promise you whether it’s going to happen or not.”
Resident Paola Irrera who has been critical of the town’s registry signing for its new town hall, continued to take Grimaudo to task for proceeding with the project even though the town was 17 signatures short of the 500 signatures needed to hold a referendum on the issue.
Irrera had recently presented Grimaudo with over 100 additional signatures on a petition that she gathered after the registry signing from residents who either couldn’t sign the registry or didn’t know about it. Despite the petition and some residents’ criticism of the project for its extravagance and cost, Grimaudo said the town hall project will go ahead with demolition of the current town hall scheduled for July.
The town’s upcoming second Festival au Galop, which will be held for three days after the Canada Day celebrations, also drew flak from many residents for its proposed $350,000 price tag and for being held immediately after Canada Day.
Marc-André Esculier told council that the town should consider scrapping the Festival au Galop and instead use the money to help people with foundation problems which drew applause from some of the approximately 40 citizens who were at the meeting.
Esculier also chastised the town for planning the festival so close to Canada Day, saying just as with the Fête Nationale, Canada Day should remain as a separate entity out of respect for all Canadians and not be tied in with the Festival au Galop.
“You’re publicizing au Galop at the same time as you’re promoting Canada Day,” said Esculier. “This means you’re diminishing the importance of Canada Day. I accuse you of not respecting this country and not respecting a national holiday that should be celebrated separately.”
St. Lazare Director General Serge Tremblay said the only reason the Festival au Galop is scheduled immediately after Canada Day is to make use of the various stages and festival infrastructure that will have been already set up, which is more practical than dismantling and then reassembling at a later date.