• John Jantak

St. Lazare resident concerned about town’s increasing debt load


PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

St. Lazare Mayor Robert Grimaudo said the city will maintain tax increases at a minimal level even though its long-term debt, currently at $28.1 million, will rise an estimated $6.3 million over the next three years, to about $34.4 million by the end of 2020.

Resident Alan Nicol raised concerns that St. Lazare’s increasing expenditures as projected in the city’s triennial plan is raising the city’s debt load and will continue to raise taxes and become a serious burden for some taxpayers. He directed his comments to Mayor Robert Grimaudo at the Tuesday evening council meeting on February 13.

Nicol asked Grimaudo for an explanation regarding substantial spending increases that are projected in specific years related to three categories – Transport, Environment Hygiene, and Recreation and Culture – in the city’s triennial capital works budget that was presented by council on January 30.

As examples, Nicol said $13,816,500 has been budgeted for Environment Hygiene in 2018, $11,190,000 for Transport in 2019, and $3,362,500 for Recreation and Culture in 2020.

The items in each category are approximate expenditures for several anticipated projects and infrastructure work that may be done at some point in the future, said Grimaudo. Their inclusion does not mean they will be done within the time frame indicated in the triennial document, he added.

Government grants

The costs would be offset by government grants and contributions that would total $13,412,026 within the three year period. “A big portion of that money would come from the government if the subsidies become available. These are projects we would like to do,” said Grimaudo.

The total monetary amount for each category in the document provided by Nicol to Grimaudo did not itemize how the money would be spent related to each sub-category.

Just over $8.5 million of the estimated $13.8 million budgeted for Environment Hygiene in 2018 has been set aside to install a residential sewage system on several side streets along Chemin Sainte-Angélique near Boulevard Cité-des-Jeunes that may be done this year.

“There are certain expenses that will be incurred,” said Grimaudo. “We have no choice. We can’t stop the city from servicing its clientele. The clientele is the taxpayer.”

Increasing debt

Nicol didn’t dispute the need to maintain and upgrade the city’s infrastructure. He said he’s concerned the overall long-term debt over the next three years is projected to grow by just over $6.3 million by the end of 2020, which will add to the tax burden. The city’s total debt at the end of 2017 stood at $28.1 million, said Director General Serge Tremblay.

When broken down into specific categories, the current debt applicable to the town as a whole is $16.6 million, the sectorial debt specific to each of the town’s six districts totals $8.5, with another $3 million factored in as subsidies that are forthcoming from the provincial government.

Minimal tax increases

Grimaudo confirmed the debt will continue to grow but said property tax increases the past two years were minimal because of additional revenue that is being generated from continuing development throughout the city.

“The proof is in this year’s budget. We increased taxes by 1.13 per cent even though the debt jumped by close to $6 million. There’s an influx of money as well that is compensating for the debt increase,” said Grimaudo.

“When debt grows, so do taxes,” replied Nicol. “Regardless of whether taxes go up or not, they very rarely go down and there are a lot of people who are going to start hurting.”

“As I said when we adopted the budget, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Grimaudo. “The tax increase in 2017 was 1.36 per cent. This year we’re at 1.13 per cent. Our revenues are increasing as well. We’ve already taken care of all the big expenses.”

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