Former interim Hudson mayor Diane Piacente (Politics 93) neglects to mention in her demand for tax fairness for west end residents that she heads the Société de developpement commercial Hudson (SDC), an organization which exists on a $200 tax illegally collected from approximately 100 businesses and commercial landlords.
What makes this illegitimate tax particularly unfair is that it does nothing to help the people who pay it and adds to the financial burden on Hudson’s business owners. That tax load, already heavier as a percentage of total evaluation than in any other sector of town, will increase as the current administration moves on a vow to install water meters in businesses and charge owners on the water they consume.
The town has refused to consider installing water meters in residences even though its own data shows the residential sector uses by far the greatest amount of town water – and the town’s west end is home to Hudson’s star water hogs.
How do we know that? Hudson residents who volunteered for this council’s strategic planning committee looking at the water issue learned from the town’s water technician that Alstonvale and Hudson Valleys consume three times the amount of water used by the centre of Hudson. One participant told me the technician held up his smartphone so the committee could see how the town is able to monitor real-time usage and compare it with archival data.”We saw how it spiked when Alstonvale’s sprinklers went on,” said another.
As for the SDC, what began as a vote of faith by Hudson’s businesses has become another tax grab, with For Rent and For Sale signs throughout Hudson’s commercial district bearing witness to the SDC’s failure to fulfil its mandate.
The discussions that led to the creation of the SDC Hudson began in 2011, involving Hudson business owners and the CLD Vaudreuil-Soulanges, a provincially mandated regional business development organization.
Their aim: create a local business development organization to attract new business and clientele and lobby for Hudson’s business community. A part-time marketing coordinator would be hired to work with local merchants and organizations to sell the town. Those around the table, including Piacente, agreed the SDC would have to earn its keep or be dissolved.
In September 2013 Hudson’s SDC received its authorization from Quebec (Loi sur les cités et villes, RLRQ. C.C-19) after only one business – the SAQ – signed a referendum opposing its creation. Membership is mandatory for the roughly 100 businesses located in Hudson’s commercial district. These businesses are each assessed $200 annually. Hudson businesses outside the core are eligible to join the SDC by paying the $200 but membership isn’t mandatory.
Under the aforementioned Cities and Towns Act, the SDC has no authority to collect property taxes. So the Town of Hudson collects the $200 per business and remits it to the SDC, minus the cost of collection. The Town MAY match – but can never exceed – the amount collected (Article 1982,c.65,s.2, 1993, c.3, s.102).
In the 40 months since Hudson’s SDC came into being,
– Has it attracted new businesses or more traffic?
– Does it lobby on behalf of the business community’s interests?
– What has it done to revitalize the commercial core?
– How much has it taken in? From who? How much has it spent? On what?
According to Articles 458.23 and 458.24 of the Cities and Towns Act, the Hudson SDC no longer has the right to receive and spend tax dollars. It is supposed to be administered by a volunteer board of directors composed of nine members.Board members must be Hudson business owners or representatives, in good standing (having paid their business and SDC taxes). Six are to be elected by the SDC membership. Two, including one representative from the Town of Hudson, are to be appointed by the elected board. The board elects the president, the vice-president, the treasurer and the secretary. Mandates are for two years.
Yet according to the Quebec business registry (REQ) as of Jan. 2, SDC Hudson’s board of directors consists of president Diane Piacente and two St. Lazare residents who operate businesses in Hudson. The town representative on the SDC board says the organization has failed to achieve a quorum at its AGMs. Without a quorum, how could the SDC elect an executive? Does Piacente own a or operate a business in the core? Has she paid her $200?
Notwithstanding questions as to its legitimacy, the SDC continues to adopt budgets and accept and spend monies collected by the town on its behalf. It’s possible the town may have violated the Cities and Towns Act by subsidizing the SDC. In October, councillor Nicole Durand revealed the town had advanced the SDC $17,000 even though the total collected to date stood at $13,000. (We’re told the shortfall has since been covered, with the municipality reportedly placing unpaid SDC bills in collection because people are refusing to pay.)
By law the SDC must produce a financial statement (Cities and Towns Act, Art. 458.25). I requested SDC financial statements from the town and was told to ask the SDC. The SDC refuses to release its annual reports and financial statements except at its AGM and doesn’t make them available on its website or Facebook page.
One of the SDC’s mandates was to lobby on behalf of the business community. A year ago this month, business owners were informed the town would no longer be charging occupants a business tax. Instead, the owners of commercially zoned properties would be charged a non-residential property tax. Overnight, landlords were responsible for collecting each tenant’s share, either hiking rents or swallowing the difference.
The SDC’s silence on that and other issues involving the business sector says it all.
In 2017, the non-residential tax rate increases to 81.47 cents per $100 evaluation from 74.73 cents in 2016. (This seems to be in line with commercial/non-commercial mil rate ratios in most Quebec municipalities without significant commercial or industrial tax bases.) Even with the jump, tax revenues from the commercial sector represent 4% of Hudson’s total tax base.
But, as the TV ads say, that’s not all. Businesses must cough up water network tariffs of between $350 and $2,750. (It’s $136 residential; $286 for Hudson Valleys and $375 for west end residents served by Rigaud’s Pointe à Raquette well.) Then there’s the sewer tariff: $314 for residential users connected to a sewer, compared to $320 to $2,700 for commercial. On top of that, add tariffs for Bylaws 504, 505 and 554 and the 9-cents-per-$100-evaluation total debt service tax on everything from the firehall to road repairs that everybody pays.
The imposition of water meters on Hudson businesses is another tax grab, but has the SDC spoken out? Again, no.
The SDC’s refusal to release financial statements is as troubling as its failure to speak out on behalf of the businesses who pay for its existence. If the SDC was pulling in the business, it would be a different matter, but it isn’t. Squandering thousands on another shop-local marketing campaign isn’t the answer.
I find myself wondering why the town would continue to support an organization that has almost no participation or support from its business community. I suspect it’s because this administration is using some of the money it collects on the SDC’s behalf to cover the cost of events the town – and therefore all Hudson taxpayers – traditionally paid for. If that isn’t illegal it should be.
I say dissolve the SDC and save businesses the $200. They’ll need it for the water meters.