Louise Villandré’s long shadow

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-3-34-58-pmFormer town manager Louise Villandré’s shadow hung heavy over Monday’s council meeting as mayor Ed Prévost drew a gloomy picture of next year’s budget and told residents development is the town’s only road to salvation.

The 2017 budget and tax rates will be presented at a special meeting Dec. 21. It begins at 7 p.m.

Hudson, carrying $28M in long-term debt, will see its valuation roll increase by $30 million on a total municipal evaluation of $1.3B. The jump means automatic cost increases for policing, public transit and regional government.

“We thought we could make up the difference by cutting,” Prévost told residents. “That will be impossible — or close to it […] Development is the only option.”

Council proceeded to approve a rezoning request that would permit construction of row housing on Mayfair near the Hwy. 342 entrance to the Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale developments. It is subject to approval by the residents of adjacent sectors.

Also adopted was a resolution approving a public information session sometime next spring for a revised Sandy Beach development project. A 2001 rezoning bylaw approved a mix of townhouses, semi-detached and single-family dwellings but the project was blocked by subsequent administrations on a variety of pretexts.

The latest effort to head off development is being led by Wharf Road resident Richard Grinnell. During the first question period he told the meeting he and others have gathered in excess of 500 signatures in hopes of convincing council to explore the possibility of buying more of the beachfront and adjacent forest.

Following the meeting, director-general Jean-Pierre Roy said the 2001 development plan can’t be applied because of changes to the provincial laws that apply to wetland and waterfront development. Some no longer exist, while others have been updated.

Sandy Beach owner/developer Hans Muhlegg was visibly moved when Louise Craig publicly thanked him for permitting public access, bringing applause from residents. Muhlegg, now 75, never sought public recognition for having contributed more than $100,000 toward the cost of bridges and boardwalks that make the beachfront and adjoining Jack Layton Park a regional destination of choice.

Council approved disbursements that included $86,500 to the town’s lawyers Dunton Rainville. Ron Goldenberg brought gasps from the crowd when he revealed the town’s legal bill reached $395,000 as of Sept. 30. The town has yet to release a file-by file breakdown of the bill.

One was the town’s failure (on Villandré’s watch) to withhold federal and provincial income tax for an unspecified number of municipal employees. As Goldenberg explained, the town is hoping voluntary declarations on behalf of the employees and issuance of revised T-4s will be sufficient to prevent fines and penalties. Questioned as to the number of employees affected and whether the town was “on the hook” for fines and penalties, DG Roy refused to get specific.

Villandré’s name was also invoked in connection with the retroactive abolition of the town’s 2014-15 environmental tax on privately owned sections of 99 public streets. Total cost of the reimbursements: $5,155.50. Cost of legal advice: Unknown.

The mayor invoked the failure of previous administrations to repair the Pine Lake dam as the reason why the structure failed two winters ago. He hinted at the existence of a report urging immediate repairs which had been ignored. Questioned about why the current administration hasn’t moved to replace the dam, Prévost told residents it’s a matter of priorities — and there are plenty more important.

Villandré served as both DG and treasurer for most of her 34-year career under mayors Bradbury, Elliott (twice), Shaar and Corker. She was released from prison in October after having served six months of a 30-month prison term for defrauding the town of in excess of $1M over a seven-year period. The Crown didn’t seek restitution due to Villandré’s bankruptcy and age, although some on council think the town should try to seize her pension. Villandré, now on parole, is living in the region.

The municipal payroll has expanded to include 128 full and part-time employees. Newest hires to be approved:
– a full-time temporary employee to prepare grant applications;
– a permanent Culture, Tourism and Communications resource;
– a Youth Centre co-ordinator to replace the retiring Donna Brazeau.

Monday’s meeting was the first for Hudson’s new town clerk, lawyer Cassandra Comin Bergonzi. She replaces Vincent Maranda, who left earlier this fall to resume private practise. Meanwhile, the search is on for a treasurer following last month’s abrupt departure of Serge Raymond, Hudson’s fourth treasurer in three years.

 

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14 thoughts on “Louise Villandré’s long shadow

  1. It would take me days to respond fully to the issues here.

    Louise Villandre should have been stopped a decade before she was, oversight was lacking and overconfidence blinded successive administrations.

    Development is surely one part of what’s needed, that was identified in the Prevost Administration’s Strategic plan. Since the start of the current administration, Hudson has been behind schedule on a proper densification plan per the MRC PMAD directives. This includes an equalization and standardization of objectives and rules for development. We’ve known the problem, there are multiple extensions to the deadline in the minutes of meetings. Still not done.

    So, we haven’t got our planning up to snuff, but we’re feeling the financial pinch of excessive spending and lack of growth in evaluations. The solution is not to ram the throttle forward and approve anything that’s in sight before the PMAD is done and approved.

    We’ve had a significant growth in costs, staff increase, legal bills and none of those are Louise Villandre’s doing. We own them as citizens, they’re our own fault. Just our present year’s legal bills would take approximately $40 million in evaluation to fund. We had to do it, of course. Will we continue to do it, or it that period of Hudson finally coming to an end?

    I think that the citizens have the right to expect proper planning and conformity to MRC and MAMOT rules, we pay a lot on money annually for a planning department that has not approved any really significant nee development in a long time.

    We have little choice in Hudson Valleys, the lots were zoned to specs that won’t sell for decades. Let Mr. Rodrique sell the concept of change to his present residents finish the development of that area.

    I’m out of time, probably only 10% of the way through my raft of issues. I do need to thank the present administration for wading through the swamp and finally reaching a state of relative clarity with audited statements coming more current. So we’re not dealing for the fictitious cooked books of Master Chef Villandre and can move forward from a known if slightly depressing baseline. That’s been hard work, burned out many people and thankfully we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

    One final issue is on the public debt. It’s hard to report the real number, I hope to find time to dig into it. A significant part of the “public debt” is the sewer project which is , if I understand correctly, 100% shouldered by about 700 homes and the commercial sector. That component also carries a grant from Quebec to cover their share of capital and interest over the 40 year amortization period. One might dig deeper and perhaps conclude that the bulk of Hudson ( without sewers) does not carry enough debt to support its infrastructure deficit. But the statements and numbers are hard to decode and make such a statement with any confidence.

    Taxes will go up, we’re growing our administration and other expenses without any significant growth in tax base. The Titanic is afloat and moving but still taking on water and the rudder is iffy.

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  2. WTF?? When did we get to 128 town employees. 3 years ago it was at 35-40 excluding firemen. Doesn’t seem like much of an effort to cut expenses. I am not in the mood for a pity party for Hans Karl Muhlegg. He got his referendum and rezoning 15 years ago and he did nothing and missed the biggest growth surge of any MRC in Quebec and arguably Canada in those years he tried to flog his different zones at insane prices to various developer/builders who knew how to get the project going. There was nothing wrong with the zoning and Hudson did not put up roadblocks. I also do not believe any new environmental rules of consequence have arrived in that time . Same flood zones , same setbacks from water courses. Maybe he waited so long some more frog ponds were discovered but the Elliott Adm. even offered up the Viviry valley as a wetland compensation for these ponds at no cost to Muhlegg. He was seduced along with Mr. Ellerbeck with the visions of future densification about 10 years ago and has been using it like a club ever since. As for Mayor Ed , his mis-handling of the Haulard situation will end up costing the Town 500 K in compensation and legal costs. It’s old ground we’re covering here . Mayor Ed stepped up to the plate and announced he would put it all right in Nov.2013 but has made no progress on any items as far as I can see. The things he has tackled have been a cluster fuddle-duddle from the get go.

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    1. Muhlegg could not build anything multi unit until sewers were installed, and that dragged on for a long time. By that time I believe the flood plains had changed and his plans have required changes.

      If they can wait long enough, densification will make them more money in the long run. Frankly I think re-zoning for new developments should include a must build timetable with percentage completion over years. Probably not legal or enforceable but I’d like to see a re-think of R-15 zoning so it could find a buyer.

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  3. I don’t really care if there is a development at Sandy Beach. I was deeply involved with the planning process at the time as a member of TPAC . I was the designated member for parkland negotiations and Mr. Muhlegg was very generous with his greenspace dedications. He donated the Viviry river valley and estuary from the tracks to the Ottawa River along with a servitude along the beach. The conditions of the servitude included , I thought , too many usages as I envisioned it more as a link in our park trails than the Coney Island it has become. It would be up to Mr.Muhlegg to redefine this with the Town as a partner. As for Zoning he got a zone for 90-100 attached housing units , a 3 story seniors apt. block ,and 5 single family lots. I am not saying it was perfect but it did pass a referendum and should at least be a starting point to a rezoning that would in some way resemble what the citizens originally approved in 2002. As for the initiative to have the Town acquire the whole area I would after much thought have to oppose. Financially crippling and in no way solves any balanced approach to the Town’s future. The land was completely clear cut by Mr. Ringuette in the early eighties except for the viviry creek course and estuary which still have some old growth. The rest is second growth red maple and poplar over bedrock . I don’t think the 20 or 100 yr. floodlines have changed , Peter, but we do have 1-2 yr. average high water mark with a no go 10 meter bande de protection setback from it on level ground , 15 meter on slopes. That may be what has caused him some planning headaches.

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    1. Floodlines and Floodlines maps.

      I think Brian and Peter might be rights I suspect the floodlines did not change, but the maps used by the town did. The official floodlines maps changed a few years ago after mapping by the provincial government. MRCs and Towns are now required to use and integrate the new official maps in their bylaws. Given that the technology is now much better, I would assume that the new maps would be more precise than the older maps.

      The official maps can be consulted on line here :

      https://www.cehq.gouv.qc.ca/zones-inond/carte-esri/index.html

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  4. Wait wait wait… Im confused. I was sitting right there. Originally they said the evaluations had increased by that amount. But then realized they misspoke and the director general said they decreased. And said the evaluations had decreased by that amount. Now you’re saying increased.. was it increased or decreased?

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    1. Mayor said it increased, which makes sense. Hudson never saw its global valuation drop through referendums and financial crashes. Goldenberg says it dropped. I’ll wait until I see the evaluators’ report itself. Something about this doesn’t make sense.

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  5. I still do not understand the explanation about the “retroactive abolition of the town’s 2014-15 environmental tax on privately owned sections of 99 public streets” that required paying Dunton Rainville to discover and correct the error because the MAMOT demanded a legal opinion from an outside law firm.

    Any lot that is coded as “public road” in the property assessment roll is identified as non-taxable. for the Municipal Tax Act, if a lot is used as a public access, is it a public road. Ownership does not matter. It is the same for private and public streets.

    If a lot is coded as “non-taxable” in the town’s taxation software, how could a tax bill have been issued?

    If a tax bill was issued, why only for the eco-tax?

    If indeed by error some non-taxable privately owned public roads lots were taxed, surely the owners would have complained, since they never get a tax bill for that lot?

    And if it was done in error, why would a legal opinion be required to correct…an error?

    Why was that error not discovered (and corrected) before the Council public announcement if wanted to municipalize the private streets when that process requires 10 years of un-taxed public access?

    Why would MAMOT demand an legal opinion from an outside law firm and refuse an legal opinion from the town’s lawyer?

    I know no law that allows the MAMOT to refuse a legal opinion from a lawyer on the pretext that the lawyer is an internal lawyer. If any one knows differently, please enlighten me.

    I can’t make any sense of this answer.

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  6. Veronique , I am one of these mysterious owners of public roads. I own a turning circle on the end of Evergreen and some sections of road in the Woodcroft area. They were always designated as roads and I believe were overlooked in the transfer process from myself as a subdivider to the Town as part of our subdivision rules. I never even knew until I received a tax bill in 2016 but it was only for the eco-tax. Now the most recent of these subdivisions is back in 2002 and I never received in the subsequent time period any notice for non-payment of taxes or saw it listed for a town tax sale. I was asked by our then treasurer Mr. Raymond whether I wanted to pay the tax and keep the property. ??? I said no and told them to draw up any documents and I would sign them immediately . I assume anyone else in their right mind would cooperate in the same way. You are right . Why are we once again running to Dunton-Rainville?

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    1. I was made to believe that if anybody wanted to give their “road” to the town, they were responsible for the paperwork and associated costs. No?

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  7. who is “they”? the owner or the town? Brian, was the transfer done? How long ago was that? Or maybe we need Dunton Drain-the-Ville to authorize it?

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