Ste. Anne’s council unanimously rejects City of Montreal agglomeration contribution increase
PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK
Mayor Paola Hawa (centre) and Councillors Dana Chevalier (left), Ryan Young, Francis Juneau, Tom Broad and Denis Gignac voted unanimously with a show of hands to adopt a resolution at the Monday evening council meeting on January 22 to reject the agglomeration budget recently adopted by the City of Montreal. Councillor Yvan Labelle was absent.
Ste. Anne de Bellevue unanimously adopted a resolution at the Monday evening council meeting on January 22 to reject the agglomeration budget presented by the City of Montreal two weeks earlier.
For Ste. Anne’s, which is one of the 15 demerged municipalities that make up the Island of Montreal agglomeration, the city will receive about $500,000 less than the $1.2 million that had originally been earmarked after the formula for calculating contributions was revised last year, said Mayor Paola Hawa.
‘Slap in the face’
Hawa didn’t mince words when asked how she felt about the increase. “It’s a slap in the face. It’s giving with one hand and taking away with the other. It’s unacceptable. There was no advance notice and no discussion. It’s like a schoolyard bully that tries to take your lunch money from you,” Hawa told The Journal.
The purpose of the recalculation last year was to make agglomeration contributions more equitable and most of the cities were getting money back, she said. “By increasing the amount of our contributions, (Montreal) Mayor Valérie Plante has basically negated the advances we had last year,” said Hawa. Plante is also President of the Montreal agglomeration council.
‘Taxation without representation’
“I understand she wants to get things done, but it can’t always be on the back of the demerged cities that make up the agglomeration. We don’t even have the right to say how it’s being spent. It’s taxation without representation,” said Hawa.
“Our cities, even though we’re handing over all that money to Montreal, have absolutely no say in who the mayor or the president of the agglomeration is going to be. It doesn’t make sense,” added Hawa.
Loss of hospital transfer compensation
The higher agglomeration costs also directly impacted the compensation the city would have received from the provincial government for the loss of tax revenue after Ste. Anne’s Veterans’ Hospital was transferred from federal to provincial jurisdiction.
“The whole point of the reformulation was to ensure our contributions went down low enough to make up the difference for the loss of revenue from the transfer of the hospital. This was supposed to be our compensation,” said Hawa.
“The reduction was negotiated with the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire (MAMOT), Montreal and Ste. Anne’s. If the City of Montreal is not respecting their end of the bargain, then what?” added Hawa.
With the unexpected loss in revenue from the agglomeration this year, Hawa said it’s uncertain how the city’s anticipated $1.8 million refund for 2018 will be affected.
Provincial government responsible
Despite complaints from the agglomeration’s Association of Municipal Mayors and opposition city councillors who are demanding Plante revise the budget, Hawa expects Montreal’s budget will be adopted as is. Instead, Hawa blames the provincial government for creating the system that allowed it to happen.
“I blame the system that allows them (Montreal) to do it with impunity. The only people who can change the system is the provincial government. They’re the ones who created the agglo and they’re the ones that can ‘uncreate’ it. It was created by a provincial law, it can be changed by a provincial law,” said Hawa.
Budget surplus affected
While the loss of revenue only slightly impacted the overall tax increase to about 2.1 per cent in the city’s 2018 budget that was presented at a special council session on Wednesday, January 24, Hawa said the city had to use a portion of its surplus to offset a potentially larger increase as a result of the unexpected increase in agglo fees.
“This is something we didn’t want to do. We had to go into our surplus to keep the tax increase at a reasonable level. This is another indirect way for us to be subsidizing the agglo,” said Hawa.
“We believe in increasing taxes at the rate of inflation. It’s dangerous not to because you don’t want to get into a situation where you don’t raise taxes at all and the next year you find yourself behind and have to raise them by five per cent. We try to keep it even so that people don’t feel it as much,” added Hawa.