There 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.