• John Jantak

Councillor Esculier votes against adopting St. Lazare’s 2017 budget


District 4 Councillor Marc-André Esculier cited the expense of the annual Festival au Galop and the proposed expropriation of four corner lots at the intersection of Avenue Bédard and Chemin St. Louis for a traffic circle as the two items that prompted him to vote against adopting St. Lazare’s 2017 budget at a special council meeting on December 20.

St. Lazare Councillor Marc-André Esculier’s dissenting vote against adopting the town’s 2017 budget caused controversy among some of the other five councillors who voted for the budget during a special council session on Tuesday, December 20.

The costs associated with the upcoming third edition of the annual Festival au Galop summer equestrian spectacle and the proposed expropriation of four corner lots to build a traffic circle slated for Avenue Bédard and Chemin St. Louis, which Esculier feels is another unnecessary expenditure, were given as the two reasons why he voted against the budget.

Esculier, who won a by-election September 25 to replace former District 4 Councillor Denis Briard who unexpectedly resigned from his council seat in July, has been a staunch opponent of the Festival au Galop since its inception more than two years ago.

As a citizen, Esculier regularly criticized council during question period for what he considered to be extravagant spending on an event that was unanimously adopted by council in 2015 without holding a public consultation process to gather residents’ feedback.

After asking Mayor Robert Grimaudo to allow for individual votes to be cast before the 2017 budget was eventually adopted, Esculier stated his intention was not to express dissatisfaction with the entire budget, but to stand by his convictions regarding the festival and proposed traffic circle.

In a summary to Your Local Journal about after the meeting, Esculier said, “The public has never been consulted as to whether or not they wanted (Au Galop) in the first place or the money that has been dedicated to it.

“In the past two years, and for 2017, the operational costs will be $1.3 million in total and that doesn’t include the infrastructure. That’s a very heavy extravagant expense considering no consultation studies have ever been done,” he said.

The explanation didn’t sit well with District 2 Councillor Pamela Tremblay, District 3 Councillor Brigitte Asselin and Grimaudo who said they were opposed to some items in the budget as well, but they wouldn’t vote against an entire budget just because they disagreed with one or two items.

Grimaudo said that while Esculier was entitled to cast a dissenting vote regarding his disapproval of the two items in the budget, voting against the items individually at future council meetings would have been a better forum for Esculier to have expressed his disapproval.

“That’s his choice,” said Grimaudo. “That’s his democratic right to do so and I have no problem with that part of it. When you adopt a budget, you adopt it as a whole, not in pieces. There are things in the budget that we debate about – we’re a council – we are never all in agreement but we debate the topics and discuss them.”

Grimaudo noted that along with Tremblay and Asselin who stated they were opposed to having the town set aside $25,000 in 2017 for leaf pick up didn’t mean they would vote against the entire budget because of that one item.

“There’s me and a couple of councillors that don’t think that leaves are garbage and should be picked up. I’m not going to vote against a $26 million budget because of $25,000 set aside for leaf pick up. It’s not logical,” said Grimaudo adding the budget for Festival au Galop was reduced by $100,000 for 2017.

Residential property taxes for 2017 will increase 1.26 per cent, although the amount was disputed by one resident who said the mill rate rose to 0.6668 cents from 0.6546 cents in 2016 for each $100 in valuation per cent, indicating an increase of about 1.8 per cent. Grimaudo said the town would look into the discrepancy.

“It’s an infrastructure based budget,” said Grimaudo. “We are a town that has ignored our infrastructure for many years. I am very proud of our council. They have made hard decisions the last few years. We’ve done what we’ve had to do to fix our infrastructure and the reality is that we’re just about there.”

The adoption of the budget was the second of three consecutive special meetings that included a first session to adopt the town’s 2017-18-19 triennial plan and a third session to adopt various municipal by-laws and resolutions before year’s end.

Complete budget details are available at http://ville.saint-lazare.qc.ca/budget.

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