Would that Hudson’s Mayor Ed Prévost’s fondness for invoking Donald Trump have extended to the U.S. President-elect’s professed concern for the overburdened middle class. Prévost oversaw the adoption of a $13.2 million 2017 budget Wednesday evening, a 9.4 percent increase over last year’s record $12 million exercise.
Most of the 60 or so residents in the hall appeared stunned before giving vent to their frustration and bafflement at the magnitude of the increase, given this administration’s comments over the past several months hinting at a surplus. Many showed up hoping for a tax freeze; instead, the tax-and-tariff burden on the hypothetical average Hudson home with a valuation of $400,000 will increase by about $200 or approximately 5 per cent.
Because next year’s budget is based on a new valuation roll, sectors of town which have seen significant real estate activity will see their evaluations – and their taxes – increase by as much as 30 per cent.
Residents didn’t take kindly to this administration’s tax-and-spend budget. Councillor Ron Goldenberg noted operating costs were down 4 per cent and said the budgeteers had whacked a million dollars from the first draft. It was all in vain, especially after council went on to announce the hiring of a full-time grants-and-subsidies chaser for $100,000 and a full-time culture and communications director.
Intense questioning pried loose the revelation that the town, with a population of just over 5,100, now employs more than 140 full and part-time employees. Of those, 36 are full time employees, although an oblique reference to disciplinary measures in regards to Employee 647 suggests another of a previous administration’s hires is caught in Hudson town hall’s deadly revolving door.
Administrative costs will rise by another 20 per cent next year to just under $2 million. Public security costs skyrocket by a whopping 65 per cent to just under $2.5 million. Conversely, four budget items shrank from last year – public works, public transportation, urban planning/economic development and financing costs.
To be fair, some of next year’s big numbers reflect bookkeeping changes – understandable given that this budget was prepared without the assistance of former treasurer Serge Raymond, the town’s fourth in three years.
And there was good news. The town starts 2017 with $23.4 million in long-term debt, down significantly from the $32.5 million the town owed back in 2013. Clearly, this has been the biggest single accomplishment of the Prévost administration. Ditto the announcement of an eight-year contract with town employees, retroactive to 2014 when the last collective agreement expired.
But residents weren’t in the mood to cheer, especially when they were presented with this administration’s 2017-2019 PTI, or capital investment plan, a wish list of projects with a $9.9 million price tag. Some, like a newwell to relieve pressure on the town’s current drinking water sources, are seen as inevitable, although many residents still can’t understand why the town doesn’t consider drawing water from the Lake of Two Mountains. Other projects on the wish list, like a skate park and an arts centre, aren’t seen as priorities when the town’s streets and sidewalks are disintegrating. It was revealed this would be the third time the town has invested in a skate park only to see it unused.
At one point during the PTI discussion, Goldenberg let it slip the town would be installing water meters in the town’s businesses, which collectively represent barely 4 per cent of the town’s total tax revenue. Businesses already pay the lion’s share of the bill for water and sewerage according to a tariff structure unrelated to how much water a business consumes. This blurt led to an animated discussion of Goldenberg’s promise to businesses that a sampling of residences would also be metered to give everyone a better idea of the residence/business water consumption ratio. As tempers flared, town manager Jean-Pierre Roy told one business owner that not only would businesses be forced to install meters, but they would foot the bill for the installation and hiring of the meter reader.
The crowd thinned as the back-to-back budget meetings dragged on for more than three hours with only the occasional outburst to snap people awake. One such moment came during a routine zoning-bylaw presentation, when former mayor Liz Corker suggested the town should demand more greenspace from Hudson Valleys developer Daniel Rodrigue in return for the right to rezone lots on Mayfair to allow semi-detached housing. Rodrigue loudly insisted he’s given far more than he was required to do and countered by referring to the circumstances under which one of Corker’s properties was developed during her time as mayor. It was like watching two members of a dysfunctional family venting in public; those who knew the back stories stared at the floor while those that didn’t watched in bewilderment.
Somehow, the discussion morphed into a debate about Hudson’s unenforced leash laws. Rodrigue’s development is bordered by the Gary Cirko Trail, where dog owners from as far away as the West Island come to exercise their animals on the public trail network. Before council voted on the proposal’s first reading, a succession of residents challenged the zoning procedure, questioned the town’s motives in presenting the requested change (by law, the town must) and voiced concern that a project good for the town might be killed because Hudson doesn’t enforce its leash laws.
Best comment of the evening: Trevor Smith, who asked council whether they had ever considered cutting expenses to the bone and giving back to residents in the form of a tax break. Smith didn’t wait for an answer but he got one anyway: smirks from a couple of those at the front of the room. It’s pretty obvious this administration won’t stop spending until they’re booted out of office next November.