Fabrication

imagesThere was considerable confusion over Louise Villandré’s long shadow, last week’s post. It arose from conflicting statements at last week’s council meeting from mayor Ed Prévost and councillor Ron Goldenberg concerning the Town of Hudson’s 2017 valuation roll.

The mayor told us the global valuation roll had increased. This would have the knock-on effect of automatically raising the cost of everything based on the town’s global evaluation – policing, public transit, recycling, two levels of municipal government.

Goldenberg, council’s mouthpiece on taxation and budget issues, contradicted the mayor. The roll had decreased, Goldenberg told us. The result, he explained in an email to selected recipients, was lower tax revenues for the town’s own budget items even though the town’s per capita assessment would drop.

This morning I paid a visit to town hall to see for myself the figures contained in the 2016 and 2017 assessments. I take the liberty of rounding off to the nearest $100,000.

Mayor Ed was correct. The global 2017 assessment, effective Jan. 1, is $1.184 billion. Hudson’s 2016 global assessment was $1.178 billion, $6 million less. This represents the total assessed value of every single lot and structure in the municipality.

In fiscal terms, the change in the overall value of the municipality is negligible. Ergo, the tax burden for policing, public transit, recycling and regional government should remain roughly the same.

Goldenberg’s explanation seems to be based on the value of taxable properties. This smaller number excludes churches, schools and federal and provincial installations for which the town receives a payment in lieu of taxes.

Again, comparing apples with apples, the total value of taxable properties in the 2017 valuation roll will increase to $1.114 billion from last year’s $1.107 billion.

That’s a $7 million increase in taxable evaluation, negligible in fiscal terms.

If the valuation roll remains substantially unchanged, what pretext will this administration use to justify what I’m told will be a tax hike in excess of five per cent?

I think I have an answer.

We know some sectors of town have seen big valuation increases in the 2017-2019 roll – 10, 20, even 30 per cent. Others, such as the downtown core, have seen no increase in value. In fact, evaluations on some commercial properties have dropped.

By law, the town must impose a single residential and single commercial property tax rate.

Likewise, it can’t use water and sewer taxes to correct those imbalances (although the town has tried that in the past.)

I suspect last week’s confusion was deliberate. How better to pull the wool over the eyes of a thoroughly demoralized citizenry?

Fiscal policy is simple when it’s transparent. A town needs enough to pay its bills and cover the cost of borrowing money with a few million set aside for the proverbial rainy day. When you’re a town like Hudson, without a commercial or industrial tax base, residential property taxes are your only revenue source. You don’t risk killing the golden goose by overtaxing – the definition of a budget surplus.

So you impose a hiring freeze and cut costs every way you can. You don’t ask taxpayers to fund a lavish spread before every caucus meeting. You don’t squander money hiring lawyers and consultants. Everything you do should be governed by a simple rule: elected and appointed officials must treat the public purse as a trust, not an entitlement.

If you’re looking for a simple bottom line, it’s this:

Whatever Hudson’s administration may tell us at the Dec. 21 budget meeting, there is no fiscal justification for a tax hike in the valuation roll. It’s a fabrication.

Sure as shit it wasn’t the cost of better snow removal.

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17 thoughts on “Fabrication

  1. Jim , thank you for the clarification. The last evaluations had some anomalies. I have agriculturally zoned land which rose by an average of 150%. It seems a lot and is in % terms but because of very low per/arpent values is not much in $. It does show , I think , a county wide (and perhaps even provincially) the speculative pressures being put on agricultural land by industrial and residential development in Vaudreuil-Dorion.
    That 7 million you calculated as a rise in Hudson’s evaluation means with a mil rate hovering at the $0.81 per $100 0f evaluation an increase in revenues of somewhere around $55K. Not a lot. So to meet potential rising expenses whether due to inflation or incurred costs the mil rate will have to rise . Have we been on a spending spree. Hard to see where. Ron G. told us it has taken a healthy belt tightening to get us back on track ( Sept.2016) and that’s the last clear statement I heard. So I go to the Dec.21 meeting feeling that the revenue side of the sheet should be up a little with expense side pared to the bone and perhaps a small overall mil rate increase to pay for those entitlement sins and poor oversight of the past which Ed tells us so bedevils them. My fingers are crossed.

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    1. I will be screaming bloody murder if this council tries to increase taxes by 5%. Don’t forget, those of us whose house is valued 3 times the average house price, is taxed three times as much. WITH NO WATER NO SEWERS, TERRIBLE ROADS, and don’t get me started on snow removal so far. Sorry for venting, but stop hiring people and consultants and legal eagles, mediate your own employee crisises, actually head off employee dissatisfaction before it gets to be a crisis and get down to basics which is plain responsible governing!

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  2. Everyone should educate themselves on the Municipal Evaluation system, which is spreadsheet driven bureaucracy adjusted by market priced sales but is not even closely related to the realistic current market value of a home.

    West end water is an issue that really needs to be resolved. Most of Hudson will never have sewers without enough density to support the infrastructure.

    Small pays less tax than large, waterfront more that others.

    The longstanding principle of municipal taxation is common average value based for land and immovables and per lot service base for garbage, water and other services.

    Taxes need to go up, way up. Or we need fewer employees and services, and fewer expenses of all types. Those decisions are all a function of the government in power, which government attempts to reflect the wishes of the same people who elected them. Hudson mostly wished to ignore reality and the lessons of the past.

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    1. Peter. I disagree that Taxes must go up. We have a situation where the population is static, inflation is zero and services are virtually unchanged or diminished. How can anyone justify an increase. I am a student of the town’s operations and there are very clear areas of productivity improvement that are staring us in the face. This is not a recent problem. It has been evident for the last 15 – 20 years (since the era of Taylor Bradbury)

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      1. The only justification is expenses versus income. Bill, I agree with you if we lived in an ideal and well managed town that was managing expenses to limit growth of spending. The reality is that the collective we, via the elected council, have raised our overhead and discretionary expenses without raising our income. That spells tax increase, unless there is a magic austerity plan no one is aware of. And we haven’t even started tackling our failing infrastructure including enough water to supply current needs and needed growth. We need millions more in spending over the next few years, tax cuts ain’t happening and tax increases are most likely.

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      2. Have to agree w/Peter on this one , Bill. Services may remain unchanged but it’s taking more people to do it as well as outside agencies such as Dunton-Rainville and count ’em : 4 reports on Pine Lake by outside agencies. There also has to be costs in firing ,hiring ,and firing so many. These are those so-called soft costs which can kill a project w/o showing any concrete improvements . There is just no forward progress there , no improvements to revenue. And as much as our present employees are trying to be productive and address actual physical town problems the bureaucracy pulls them back to zero sum . Now they’re going to try and soft land this budget and tax rate but I predict 5% and a lot of buck passing on the evils of past governance forcing them into it and oh sorry , no details because we don’t have a treasurer.

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      3. Brian, you and Peter are right in pointing out the problem. My issue is that there is no fiscal justification for a tax increase. Look at V-D: an average $7 increase per household. That tells me our crew is going at this all wrong.

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  3. We used to have substantially less in the way of both employees and services. I know I’m a codger , Peter, because I keep thinking back to a time of Little League baseball, PeeWee hockey, Legion Field days , Tombolas ( Catholic Church) , Infusers ( a teen association started by Jack Layton’s father) . real winter carnivals , the Chateau tavern( hey a lot of really good ideas started there. ) My dad was a Town councillor and I’m positive he went there to talk to constituents before council meetings. You just don’t find that dedication anymore. Seriously though all of these activities had nothing to do with the Town administration. It was just people with more a sense of community. We still have Nova, Meals on wheels, Palliative Care,the Food Bank, and the War Memorial Library. My money earning days are winding down and I have time so I would be happy to help out in their Parks Dept. I don’t want any money . I think there’s so many citizens out there who feel the same and would be glad to help out for free if it got us back on our Town feet and slashed expenses. There are some really smart Hudson folk who could do what our planning dept. does , who can organize recreation, who can figure out technical stuff. If the Library and the Nichoir can run on volunteers why can’t some of the Town duties too.

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    1. You’re right, Brian. Citizen volunteers built the original Pine Lake dam. They didn’t hire consulting firms to protect their butts. They just got to it with a whole lot less in the way of equipment than we have today. Previous administrations were too cautious when it came to capital investments, the example cited most often being the lost opportunity to buy all of Sandy Beach from the Blenkinships for under $300,000. We should have seized on the reconstruction of Main Road in the eighties to invest in a sewer system. We should have invested the million it would have cost to bury the hydro lines in the town core. Hudson’s regrets are many because of shortsighted administrations. More than anything else, Hudson needs a collective vision. Dedication comes with a shared vision.

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    2. Poor little History Garden. Forgotten again. She took hours of volunteer devotion and butt ass hoe and go to build, maintain, and gather Friends of the History Garden. Fickle boys you are!

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      1. Elaine, the people who care know the History Garden was a labour of love. What’s truly sad is the number of people who don’t care. The same can be said for the Village Theatre, Meals on Wheels, As Kneaded, Terry Fox and all those other volunteer endeavours Hudson likes to boast about. Louise and I spent a dozen years running our cross country ski and snowshoeing events with logistic help from the town. We get our thanks from those who appreciate what we do and our reward in the doing.

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      2. As one of those volunteers , I am totally mortified that I overlooked the Garden in my haste , Elaine. Mea culpa. It is community type volunteer success I was listing but overlooked.

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  4. Well, reality is what happens while we plan and so we’re here. I am one of the few who believes the existing zoning at Sandy Beach is a good result. I go by the old axiom : if nobody’s happy it’s probably the best best deal (compromise). We are cursed with having both Bell and Hydro and the pole parasite Videotron with their own sets of poles and wires most of them leaning at precarious angles and propped by posts and cables. There’s a grid that blights the Town.

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  5. I was just made aware of this site and it is fantastic. I applaud Jim’s excellent research, insight and writing skills. The budget meeting is in one hour, but here is some information I gathered from a news paper article; Out of the eight towns including Vaudreuil-Dorion, Ile-Perrot, Pincourt, Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac, Notre-Dame-de-L’lse Perrot, Terrace-Vaudreuil and St.-Lazare, Hudson ranks 6th in population but has the #1 ranking in per capita taxation at roughly $2,250/person. St-Lazare has the second highest population, but has the lowest per capita taxation at roughly $1,250/person. Hudson has about 5,000 people with a budget of roughly $12million while St. Lazare has about 20,000 people with a budget of roughly $24.5million. This could easily be explained if Hudson had indoor soccer and skating, public tennis courts, great parks and great roads, but we don’t. So, whazzz up?

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  6. Jim , I saw you as well as Dick there last night at the budget meeting. The water meter issue , I see, continues to writhe. You are quite right . They are going to have to do a test sampling ( w/ meters) in both residential and commercial to determine what indeed the consumption patterns are. That could lead to comparisons which if fairly taxed might actually see the commercial water taxes drop against the residential rates.

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