• John Jantak

Agglomeration budget shortfall doesn’t mean decreased taxes in Ste. Anne’s

A $1.2 million decrease in the amount of money Ste. Anne de Bellevue has to pay to the Montreal agglomeration doesn’t mean it will result in a reduced tax rate in the upcoming 2019 municipal budget, said Ste. Anne’s Mayor Paola Hawa.

“The only reason we want to highlight this is because we didn’t want the message getting out that we saved $1.2 million. It’s great but we were expecting more than that. In other words, again, we have to adjust our local budget to hand over more money to the agglomeration,” Hawa told The Journal during a telephone interview on December 4.

Still $1 million short

“What I was afraid of is that people are going to say now that we’re paying less money, we should get a reduction in taxes and not increase them. We’re only saving $1.2 million. We’re still short in terms of the money we should have saved. We’re still short $1 million,” said Hawa.

Ste. Anne’s was the only city among the 14 demerged municipalities that saw a reduction in the amount of money it contributes to the agglomeration. “All the other cities had an increase in their contributions,” said Hawa.

Final transfer payment

The city will also receive one final payment from the provincial government of $1.824 million to compensate for the loss of revenue that will happen when the deed to Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital is transferred from the province to the city in 2019. A total of $10.4 million in transfer payments will have been made since the agreement was signed in July, 2016.

The loss of this revenue means it will lose a stream of income it used to offset contributions the city made to the agglomeration in previous years. This year’s property tax increase in Ste. Anne’s is pegged at about two per cent.

Infrastructure projects

What concerns Hawa the most is the state of the city’s roads and sewers, most of which are at least 20 years old. She said the city will eventually have to find the money to do the necessary work to upgrade its infrastructure to current standards.

“We’ve worked around it,” said Hawa. “Some of the big projects that we wanted to get done next year won’t happen. It means we had to put certain things aside and wait for another year. We just hope in the next year of two our full amount of savings from the agglomeration comes into effect so that we can get more stuff done.”

Inadequate services

What bothers Hawa the most is that she feels city isn’t receiving the level of services from Montreal for the amount of money it pays each year towards the agglomeration. “How does it make any sense that a little city like mine and four other municipalities are paying for police (SPVM) services and we only have one police station that our cities have to share?” asked Hawa.

“It is what it is. It’s reality. You learn to make do when you’re a demerged municipality. You realize you’re just a little guy and have to adjust to what the big guys decide. It’s all part of the job. We don’t like it, but we adjust. In all fairness to Montreal, it could have been worse. It could have also been a lot better, closer to what it was supposed to be. I recognize that at least they made an effort,” she added.

Provincial intervention

Hawa said it’s up to the provincial government to take a look at the structure of the agglomeration, which she feels is inequitable, unjust and unworkable.

“It’s like a can of worms that no one really wants to touch or open. It’s like a Pandora’s Box,” she said. “But at some point in time, someone is going to have to acknowledge there’s a problem and put an effort into fixing it because it’s unfair to the 15 demerged cities.”

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