Tax freeze for Hudson residents
PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG
A lively discussion ensued during the 2018 budget presentation when resident Louise Craig raised issues regarding the merits of comparing Hudson to other communities.
Hudson Mayor Jamie Nicholls has kept his often-repeated campaign promise. The Hudson 2018 budget presented at a special town council meeting on Monday, January 29 maintained residential tax rates at 2017 levels. Nicholls thanked Treasurer Claudia Ouellette and town senior management for developing a responsible 2018 budget. “She has 26 years of municipal experience and I have to say, that witnessing her work throughout the development process of the budget has been impressive,” he said.
Previous surplus provides tax relief
The 2018 budget predicted revenues and expenses each totaling $13,457,140, an increase of 8.04 per cent over the 2017 budget. The treasurer noted that municipal budgets have to balance according to Quebec law. Regardless of the increase in expenses, Hudson residents received a tax break.
“We found that there was money left over from five loan by-laws that are finished and completed from the 1990s. It’s money just sitting in the bank not doing anything. We used about $194,000 to balance out the expenses,” said the mayor after the meeting. “Council agreed to do that because we are bringing in an asset management plan,” he added.
Good news for business owners
Commercial property owners received an average reduction of 25 per cent on water and sewage tariffs. For homeowners, those tariffs remain the same as they were in 2017.
Residential and commercial garbage collection rates also remain the same as last year. According to Ouellette, the reduction in the water and sewage rates was due to a budget surplus of $7,890 in previous years. “There was over-taxation in 2013 and previous years. The money was sitting there and could only be used for the same purpose. So we used those funds to absorb some of the costs in water and sewage,” she said.
Council passed the 2018 budget but not unanimously. When the mayor put the motion to the vote by individual councillor, District 5 Councillor Jim Duff voted against passing the budget.
“I have to say it sets the table for an unsustainable level of spending, not just for the next year, but for the foreseeable future,” he said when asked during the question period by resident Bill Nash for the reasons for his dissent. “I think we have established a spending benchmark that fails to address the infrastructure deficit or debt ratio that Hudson has in comparison to its peers,” he said referring to the 8 per cent increase in expenditures.
“It’s a good point,” said Director General Jean-Pierre Roy in reply to Duff’s dissent. “However, Hudson residents deserve a break,” added Roy referring to budget surpluses from previous years. Roy said the administration has the responsibility and knows how to prepare the budget with the council providing the direction it wishes to take.
Keeping campaign promises
Resident Louise Craig raised the issue of comparing Hudson tax rates to those of the surrounding communities.
“Jamie, in a comment you made during your campaign, you said that… ‘When young families are looking for a place to live they look at the bottom line: how much a mortgage will cost along with municipal taxes. We have to get our taxes under control.’ You said, ‘Lowering taxes would make Hudson competitive again. Our taxes are higher per capita than all surrounding communities. I will change this.’ Did you do that tonight?” she asked.
“I believe what I offered was a tax freeze this year. I promised over a four-year period to reduce taxes,” Nicholls replied. He added that coming into office he and the new councillors had learned things they didn’t know before the election. “We worked closely with the administration to bring taxes in line,” he said.
“What did you mean by ‘our taxes are higher per capita than surrounding communities?’ How much more are they?” asked Craig.
“I think what I was referring to was that sometimes taxes in surrounding communities are lower. But what I have learned from Treasurer Ouellette is that every municipality has its context that has to be taken into consideration,” Nicholls responded adding, “We have to compare ourselves to ourselves.”
“There are so many factors to look at. Each municipality has different infrastructure and different services. It’s very difficult to start comparing unless it is done asset by asset,” Ouellette added.
“I have full confidence in our treasurer…” began Nicholls as Craig interrupted with her reply, “It has nothing to do with the treasurer…”
“We began the exercise of comparing ourselves to other municipalities and then we saw the futility of it,” continued the mayor making the point that he respected Ouellette’s advice on the matter. “Why would I continue down that road when I am being told by my chief financial officer that it won’t bear any fruit?” he asked.
The exchange continued with Craig attempting to demonstrate the need for comparison. “It’s a question of priority, of how we are spending money,” she said. The exchange ended with Mayor Nicholls requesting Craig refer to him with respect as the mayor rather than by his first name. Craig replied she wanted to be treated respectfully as a resident and property owner.
“Ms. Craig, if you wanted to be elected to this council, you should have run in the election,” said Nicholls as Craig left the microphone.