Buy a ticket!

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Hudson, the fourth largest water consumer in the MRC, is dealing with  a serious peak-consumption shortfall, yet is in no position to apply for federal and provincial money.

There’s that ancient joke about the guy who prays to win the lottery. Week after week, he lists his financial problems and repeats his plea for divine intervention. As time goes by, his prayers grow bitter with recrimination until one day, the skies open, the clouds part and the Voice of G-d roars “YOU WANT ME TO HELP YOU? BUY A TICKET!”

That geriatric knee-slapper comes to mind as I ponder the Town of Hudson’s mission to seek funding for its growing list of infrastructure projects, beginning with water.

Yesterday, I spoke with Peter Scheifke, our federal MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for Youth. Scheifke briefed me on the money currently and coming available for infrastructure projects.

He began by noting $170 million in federal money available to Quebec municipalities of fewer than 100,000 residents for new potable water infrastructure and repairs to existing infrastructure. Costs are split three ways, with Ottawa and Quebec shouldering two thirds. Quebec racked up a $2.1 billion surplus in 2016, allowing an additional $400 million to be earmarked for municipal infrastructure.

Then there’s the Trudeau government’s new infrastructure program, under which Ottawa pays half, Quebec a third and the municipality just 17%.

But there’s a catch. A provincial law passed during the Duplessis era requires the feds to go through Quebec to fund municipal projects. Quebec is the only province with such a requirement.

Despite its infrastructure needs, Hudson isn’t on the list because it can’t satisfy Quebec’s requirements. “Hudson is not currently ready [for anything to be approved],” Scheifke told me.

Hudson’s council adopted a resolution at the town’s December budget meeting to hire a full-time grant chaser, but the town’s DG Jean-Pierre Roy told me this morning the town must file a public works intervention plan with the municipal affairs ministry (MAMOT) before filing grant-eligible proposals.

To draft a public works intervention plan, the town must first hire a consulting firm to compile data on every aspect of municipal infrastructure – roads, aqueducts, sewage and storm sewers, sidewalks, even streetlights.  “They want us to pay what’s broken first,” Roy explained.

I was blown away when the DG said the town should have filed an intervention plan 10 years ago. Hudson has to play catchup and under Quebec’s grant guidelines, must re-prioritize its to-do list. It’s possible Hudson’s bumpy roads and treacherous sidewalks will take priority over waterworks upgrades for infrastructure funding.

Here’s the kicker: Under Quebec’s guidelines, Hudson may not qualify for potable-water infrastructure spending because it uses too much water.

According to an MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges-funded study (Put Water on the Table, http://www.thousandlashes.ca, February 2016) Hudson’s residents consume 1,123,024 cubic metres of water a year, the fourth highest in the MRC. Quebec municipalities average between 200 and 300 litres per day per person; Hudson’s consumption tops 400. The southwestern sector consumes more than a thousand litres per day per person.

Hudson’s administration hopes to address overconsumption by sensitizing property owners, but if people don’t pay, they don’t care until their toilets stop flushing. And as I posted (Downtown, downtown, http://www.thousandlashes.ca Jan. 3) the usage differential between business and residential sectors is astronomical:

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.”

I’ve also learned the town faces a deadline for the installation of water meters in the  business sector. Originally, MAMOT required business sectors to be metered by September 2017, but that deadline has been extended a year. Bottom line: Hudson must meter business water consumption and ensure the accuracy of its well and filtration-plant flowmeters by September 2018.

Roy said the town may agree to meter a sampling of residential properties to establish a basis for comparison, but is not obliged to do so.

The DG also told me the administration is still wrestling with water and sewer taxation issues beginning with those whose properties are located on the sewer system but are not connected. Roy confirmed these unconnected sewer dwellers do not pay either sewer tax. The municipality has never set a sewer connection deadline, so approximately 250 of the 700 eligible properties haven’t connected or paid sewer taxes in 10 years.

Water meters, sewer taxes and related infrastructure issues will be on the agenda for Monday’s January council meeting as this administration gets its house in order. Until that’s done, there will be no point in applying for infrastructure money, let alone any of those fanciful projects on the strategic planning list town hall spent so much time and money selling to Hudsonites.

Sadly, there’s no depanneur selling tickets for the infrastructure lottery.

Put water on the table

This was first published last February. I’m hoping Hudson residents will develop a sense of urgency on this issue. Maybe when their toilets no longer flush…

thousandlashesdotca

No discussions about development in Hudson, Rigaud and St. Lazare should exclude the impact on the water table supplying our drinking water.

A study released in June 2015 found that precipitation falling on Rigaud Mountain and the Hudson and St. Lazare plateaus represents 41% of the total replenishment of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges aquifer, the water table supplying drinking water to more than 100,000 Vaudreuil-Soulanges residents. (FYI, St. Lazare is the largest municipality in Quebec entirely dependent on well water.)

The chief concern expressed in the Programme d’acquisition de connaissances sur les eaux souterraines (PACES) report is that the zones with the highest replenishment rate — Mont Rigaud, Hudson and St. Lazare — also happen to be the most vulnerable to contamination.

The study was carried out over a two-year period by a multidisciplinary team from the Université du Québec à Montréal, École Polytechnique and GéoMont, the agency mandated to map the…

View original post 652 more words

Public service prerequisites

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In his farewell address, Barak Obama made his usual eloquent plea to get politically involved. If you don’t like the way your school board, town, city, state or country is run, jump in. The outgoing U.S. president’s subliminal message: Donald Trump won because of apathetic, disengaged Americans who don’t vote, don’t show at meetings and don’t inform themselves. Want to see Trump and the Republicans ousted? Show up ready to work. Bring a lunch.

At the heart of Obama’s message, this reality: The I-don’t-give-a-damn lobby is far and away the largest voting bloc in North America. I use the term ‘voting bloc’ because of the effect not voting has on the democratic process. Non-voters give those who vote greater influence and bestow unearned legitimacy on those elected.

Trump was chosen by less than half of the 52 per cent of eligible voters who actually voted, roughly 23% of the U.S. voting population. Lest we get smug, Canadians elected the Trudeau Liberals with 27% of the total eligible vote.

…which brings me to a thread on my WordPress site suggesting those who challenge the words and actions of elected politicians should either put up or shut up.

Let’s start with the meaning of the words ‘public service.’ Public service doesn’t begin on Election Day. It doesn’t begin when one files one’s nomination papers or when one is sworn in. Public service starts with a basic grasp of how society’s political, legal and economic systems work. Public service prerequisites include learning how to read a financial statement, how to access information, citizens rights and the responsibilities of elected officials. Some of this is taught in school. The rest is what I call lifelong learning.

For me, the process started in high school. I joined the debating team. We were taught Roberts’ Rules. We learned the elements of Socratic discourse, Marxist dialectic and parliamentary debate. We were educated in how different political systems work and don’t work.

I went on to Loyola College, which in those days was affiliated to the Université de Montréal and run by the Jesuits. There, this Presbyterian was exposed to liberation theology and the Jesuit belief that one must be able to take either side in a debate to earn the right to an opinion.

Most of what I know about Canadian democracy was acquired in my 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator. I covered both generations of Trudeaumania, René Lévesque and his PQ successors, Brian Mulroney and Jean Charest, both referendums, the October and Oka crises, Claude Ryan and Reed Scowen. I also got to know mayors and city managers – Jean Drapeau, Mae Cutler, Peter Trent, Hazel McCallion, Malcolm Knox, Bill McMurchie, Jean Doré, Michael Fainstat, Pierre Bourque, Gérald Tremblay, Gérald Vaillancourt, Michael Appelbaum, Frank Zampino and scores more. Some are deceased, some are in jail or headed there, but every one of them taught me something about how politics works and the meaning of public service.

Throughout my journalistic career I’ve avoided being sucked into politics. Twice I broke that rule. Once was when I was invited to participate in a 1991 estates-general where Quebec’s Liberal interprovincial affairs minister Gil Remillard laid out the five conditions for Quebec’s signature on the 1982 Patriation Act. I was working as a CBC TV reporter and had been cautioned by my boss against being caught in a conflict of interest. I counted on my presence going unnoticed until my name appeared in Joe Armstrong’s 1995 diatribe Farewell the Peaceful Kingdom: The Seduction and Rape of Canada. It was my lesson in the essential nature of journalistic objectivity.

The second time was over a five-year period beginning in 1995. I was a talk show barker, first on CJAD, then on CIQC. I deliberately scrapped my journalistic objectivity in interviews and discussions involving Quebec independence. I spoke at anglo-rights rallies. I derided my French-language colleagues for what I saw as their biased coverage. My rants got me sued by then deputy PQ premier Bernard Landry. I acquired — and still own — the Bloc Québéois name in Quebec so I could mock them for being a federally chartered political party dedicated to the breakup of Canada. I grew to love being able to polarize opinion. My ratings showed how easy it was to fire people up.

I found no satisfaction on radio because I knew I was betraying the trust of journalistic objectivity and the discipline imposed by the written word. I still miss radio’s immediacy and reach, but it was far too easy to play to one’s audience, to pander to their prejudices and fears. When the radio gig ended (that’s showbiz!) I returned to print journalism with a vow to keep the faith of journalistic objectivity when it came to reporting the news.

Eventually I moved back to Hudson because Louise and the Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges needed me. The last 15 years I’ve spent exploring the distinctions between objectivity, neutrality, balance and equivalency with the help of a succession of incredibly bright, driven young reporters who quickly grasped the nuances. We were objective without being neutral, balanced without striving for equivalency. We broke major stories by digging while others would send their stenographers to news events, regurgitate the content onto newsprint and airwaves and go home. Together, we re-wrote the book on community journalism.

Since the October 2014 closure of the paper for reasons beyond my control, I’ve concentrated my efforts on developing a virtual community newspaper on social media. This week, Facebook announced it was doing the same, leading Canada’s remaining publishers to announce their own initiative to keep social-network advertising dollars in Canada. Watch for this sector to explode within the next year or two as news consumers seek voices they know and trust.

In the meantime, I keep my writing and newsgathering instincts alive by blogging on WordPress and posting on Facebook. Both are transitional. As Louise is fond of reminding me, people who spend their time on social media are looking for affirmation, not information. Most Facebook threads remind me of those overnight talk shows where the same people call to say the same things night in, night out. We can and will do better. Much better.

As of today, Jan. 12, the municipal elections are in 278 days. According to my calculations based on the DGEQ website, nominations for council positions open Sept. 22 and close Oct. 6. Independents can register before that, but as of today, nobody has registered or reserved the name of an official party and nobody has registered as an independent candidate.

Although we’ve all heard the rumours about people intending to seek election or re-election, the only person who has confirmed to me that he is running is Rod Hodgson, one of Hudson’s longest-serving town employees. Rod says he’ll be running in District 1 (Como). I’m sure Rod will be a valuable member of council. He knows Hudson’s nooks and crannies, having crawled into most of them. The way I measure prerequisites, Rod is seriously overqualified for the job.

I’m sure there are plenty of other Hudson residents out there equally qualified. From the comments posted on thousandlashes, I sense there’s general interest in taking our conversation to the next step. Here’s what I’d like to see accomplished before nominations close:

– The creation of a citizen’s caucus. Some will see this as a direct challenge to the authority of the council and administration. With respect, how is an unelected, unrepresentative citizens’ group able to challenge anyone’s authority? Residents who volunteered for this administration’s strategic planning subcommittees have told me of their disillusionment with the process. I can’t bring myself to blame anyone. We elect a mayor and council to oversee the administration in the performance of their duties on behalf of all citizens. Whatever their expectations, advisory groups are not elected and therefore unaccountable.

I see an arm’s-length citizen’s caucus as an essential first step in recruiting qualified candidates. I’ve often wondered why Hudson has never had much luck attracting enough quality candidates to make most municipal elections a real choice. As Eva McCartney notes, council seats are far too often filled by acclamation or if, there’s a contest, to prevent an acclamation. That isn’t much of a reason.

– Discussion of real issues without polarization, confrontation or publicity. My New Year’s resolution is to fight the temptation to rag on the current administration and its elected members (there will be plenty of that once the campaign begins). Nor should anybody expect a coherent, informed discussion at a monthly council meeting, especially during a question period. People need to understand that for the mayor and council, the public meeting is the final step in a process which included a working table with town hall staff and a caucus meeting the week before. By the time they’re presented at council meetings, resolutions have already been discussed and approved. Adoption is a legal formality.

– Set new governance goalposts, beginning with transparency and accountability. I’ve watched Westmount’s Peter Trent redefine the planning process to add public consultation on any project that could impact on public spaces. Hudson residents have been told time and again council’s hands are tied when it comes to planning secrecy. I don’t believe that to be true. Likewise, essential data should be posted on the town website as soon as it can be made available. The municipality complains about being swamped with access-to-information requests. Why not post everything as soon as possible as a matter of routine unless there’s a specific reason not to do so? Better still, why not stream council meetings live?

– Get more people involved in the process. Anyone thinking of seeking office should begin attending council meetings, starting next week (the agenda should be posted on the town website by the end of the day tomorrow). Attend. Listen. Observe. Read the documents handed out. Learn what they mean. Repeat for the next nine months, when this council is dissolved prior to the election. Watch for special meetings called with 24 hours notice.

To summarize: it’s way premature to talk about candidates for the mayoralty and council. My public service assignment is helping others set up a framework for discussion, possibly but not necessarily leading to nominations. As Obama said, democracy isn’t pretty and it can be bloody. I’ll settle for not drawing blood.

I’m curious about your reactions. Anyone interested in talking about this in confidentiality can email me at duffcraig48@gmail.com, message me on Facebook or call me at 450-458-5353.

Tranparency on all sides, because we’re all on the same side

It’s always surprised me that incoming councils don’t include those who lost the election into committees or as advisors. I have mentioned this to councils present and past several times quietly, but the animus of a campaign lingers far too long in a supposedly friendly community.

By year two of a new council, frustration and anger generally becomes prevalent on both sides of the council table. Did citizens really expect that 10+ years of evil or 30+ years of infrastructure neglect could be undone in two years? Certainly the present council could never understand fully the depths of the swamp they volunteered to drain for us.

Every four years, when we’re lucky, we get interested groups and individuals from all around town who prepare and work to get elected. Those who do get elected take the wheel, but those who don’t are generally among the best prepared and knowledgeable people in our small town, yet by having run and lost they are treated as castoffs and often seem like enemies to council because the heated emotions and statements of the election have divided the losers from those who won. Those who lose an election, people with time, energy and ideas, barring some major flaw or inability to work with others, should form the backbone of committees where their expertise is strongest.

That’s the first opaque curtain of virtually every incoming council as they sequester themselves, gird their loins and build walls. Silence and opacity bring distrust and eventually anger and a town remains oppositional and not cooperative.

There have been exceptional ideas discussed at length in these blogs by interested people. There have been exceptional efforts to reach compromises on points and bring formed ideas together in understanding. In the end, with only a microscopic component of disallowed and deleted discourse. There are other places full of similar interested people with similar patterns of discourse. Yet it seems to never filter past the opacity to council.

If council pulls curtains closed, so do groups. The participation rate in blogs like this one are generally low, I believe largely because they are public and require that you own your words responsibly.

Citizen formed places of discussion can be models of transparency and should always be public and not closed groups. I’ve slacked off a bit, there was a time until recently that whenever I posted anything on any blog or Facebook I would immediately send an email with a link to all Councillors and the Mayor so that I might never be accused of talking behind anyone’s back.

Now, I only do that on something I deem truly significant to them or critical of them, so as not to overwhelm their interest and focus or blindside them with criticism from behind. Because trust is important, at the same time I have had private and face to face communications which will remain in strict confidence which allow me to better understand the limitations and challenges council faces.

I’ve encouraged other groups to include council in their email chains, most or all the angry mobs have been driven underground to silence by fear of litigation from thin skinned council and municipal staff.

These are my personal, if not perfectly adhered to, examples of a willingness to transparency with responsibility of confidentiality where it’s important.

If anyone forms an interest group, please take minutes of your meetings, work towards consensus and compromise and forward your minutes and conclusions to council quietly. If you have an idea, well formed and workable, email it to council. The goal is to assist and guide council, not to nail them publicly in an embarrassing position at monthly council. I won’t actively get involved in groups that do not reach rational conclusions with constructive proposals which they share openly with council.

In fact I’d prefer to only get involved with small constructive groups who would invite council to their meetings, they’re unlikely to attend but we can’t ask for transparency and hope for open caucus when we’re not willing to demonstrate it ourselves.

Those we have and will elect to lead our town are our friends and fellow community members, they are not the enemy and they deserve exactly the same respect from us that we do from them. It would be great if such a future mayor was part of a number of interest groups, or the leader of an interest group that sets a sterling example of transparency prior to election.

We’re all on the same side, we all have the goal of a better place to live and only ignorance or anger can defeat and deny good the constructive will we need as a community.

Adios, amigos

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Stéphane Dion, replaced as Canada’s foreign minister by Chrystia Freeland, was a passionate spokesman for a worldwide reduction in greenhouse gases. As Canada prepares to battle Mexico for a special trade deal with the Trump Republican White House, there was no room in Trudeau’s cabinet for a man who believed in doing the right thing regardless of the political cost.

Canada and Mexico could join forces to challenge Donald Trump’s plans for a wall on the Mexican border and a repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but they’re not.

Instead, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto are each lobbying for a special relationship with the U.S. president-elect and both Republican-controlled houses.
To nobody’s surprise, Chrystia Freeland replaces Stéphane Dion as Canada’s foreign affairs minister, while in Mexico, Peña has named Luis Videgaray foreign minister.

There was no way Dion’s environmental baggage could pass inspection in Washington, where fossil fuels are back in fashion and climate-change researchers are updating their resumés. As international trade minister, Freeland rescued a free trade agreement with the 28-country European Union when it looked like it was headed for another Brexit shipwreck. Trudeau advisors Katie Telford and Gerald Butts spent several days last week laying the groundwork for Freeland to connect with Canada’s allies in the Republican-dominated Congress and Senate.

Likewise, Videgaray’s return to cabinet was a pragmatic decision. He quit as Mexico’s finance minister days after Trump’s pre-election visit in September, a visit insiders say Videgaray set up. Once Trump’s election was confirmed, Peña Nieto did what he had to do to reinstall a certified Trump whisperer.

Dion was an easy target. I believe he should have halted the $115 million deal that saw Canadian armed vehicles shipped to Saudi Arabia for use in subjugating its Shiite minority.  I thought he was inept in his refusal to get harsh with the Saudis over the 10-year, 1,000-lashes sentence meted out to blogger Raif Badawi, whose plight and Quebec family convinced me to start blogging.

What I find surprising is Trudeau’s ruthlessness. I recall watching the young MP, a Dion-green scarf around his neck, joining a celebratory conga line to parade the newly elected Liberal leader through Montreal’s Palais de Congrès. That was in 2006. Now that they’re in power, the Liberals would like nothing better than to erase memories of those ideology-driven days in the political weeds. Kyoto? A city in Japan, the name of Dion’s dog. In Trudeau’s comments on the shuffle, he made no mention of Dion’s 21 years – including two years as Liberal leader – as Canada’s voice of environmental responsibility.

In Donald Trump’s post-fact world, this alarms me. Why is Canada so quick to acknowledge the new reality? What priority will Canada’s environmental concerns be given? How will Freeland reconcile Trudeau’s national carbon tax with Canada’s place in the continental supply chain?

The optics aren’t encouraging. For Dion and fellow veteran John McCallum, there were no cabinet openings. McCallum, who as Canada’s immigration minister opened the door to 25,000 Syrian refugees, becomes Canada’s ambassador to China. It’s been variously reported that Dion was offered the ambassadorship to France or Germany, but said he’s reflecting on his options.

I’ve always liked Dion the humanist. Mostly it’s because of his passionate efforts on behalf of those who believe in a united Canada. Thanks to Dion, the Chrétien government adopted the Clarity Act in the wake of the 1998 Supreme Court reference on Quebec’s right to secede unilaterally.

Thanks to Dion, Quebec’s independence movement lost the momentum it might have carried out of the 1995 referendum.

But that was then. Now, Trudeau’s Liberals depend on Quebec for their re-election and the last thing they need is a resurgent PQ under Jean-François Lisée resurrecting old humiliations on Canada’s 150th birthday. Another reason Dion had to go, given that Quebec’s National Assembly voted unanimously for a motion that Quebec, and only Quebec, has a say on future referendums and terms of secession in the event of a yes vote.

I also understand the PM’s need to empty the Liberal closets of noisy, rattling old bones as it heads into a trade war with the world’s greatest consumer nation. Trudeau knows Peña Nieto will play Mexican wages against Canadian social entitlements, Mexican versus Canadian oil, Mexico’s fierce war on drugs versus Canadian cannabis and Canadian needle exchanges. Trump hasn’t even taken power, yet he has the two amigos scrapping on the threat to scrap NAFTA.

Dion exited with a comment I hope Trudeau remembers when it’s his turn to jump.

“I loved politics, especially every time I could make a difference for the benefit of my fellow citizens. I’m leaving filled with energy – renewable. But politics isn’t the only way I can serve my country. Happily.”

Loving Lone wolves

Love of a community drives some among us to speak out as their public contribution. Blogging is a thankless job very similar to taping a “Kick me” sign on your own back. The most common insult we hear from behind us is that we make a lot of noise and never step up and actually do anything.

I believe that most people underestimate the effort, time, personal risk, legal liability and long term value of single voice public commentary . Especially a voice questioning of the system as it currently is and most especially such a voice within a small community.

Nothing great is accomplished without some significant dissatisfaction with the status quo. We understand that people want to live in a peaceful happy place, so fomenting dissatisfaction is seen as negative by many. Yet, many who never speak up themselves, or “like” something we might post, those who never be seen publicly standing behind us,  are the people who often quietly encourage us to continue doing what we do.

Sometimes a strong single reasoned voice can gather people and effect more change than a whole government. A voice can certainly change the self perception and goals of an entire community to be better for all. Rarely is that strong single voice the Churchill or FDR who can be listened to well enough to lead a community towards a new, difficult or different vision.

Those who do speak out, especially about doing things differently, are simply wired differently. We don’t disrespect the process of government, we attempt to improve it with our freedom of speech and public voice. But, we often don’t see holding office or bureaucracy as a place where new ideas can flow efficiently to a community or a country, instead it is a confining place that would restrict our freedom to think and speak openly.

Once confined within an elected office for a sentence of four years there is solidarity of caucus position of a small closed group defined behind closed doors and usually without significant transparency. To a free thinker it sounds like absolute hell being shackled by bureaucracy and muzzled by convention.

The lone wolves who speak among us attempt to bring their passion to interest and ignite the silent masses and government to action, a process that usually fails without persistence that defies reason. We may seem strange or dangerous  to the apathetic or unaware. The majority chooses to be far too silent to ever change anything because silence screams satisfaction that we lone wolves don’t believe is possible given what we see.

To prosper, ideas and opinions require the tests of reason, fact and reality. Without meeting those tests lone wolves quickly discredit themselves and people drift away.

So, perhaps we should consider a government enlisting and following some of the ideas of the most credible lone wolves and free thinkers, especially those who are credentialed in a field or those have survived decades of speaking out without becoming completely disillusioned, conforming or believing that they might make great leaders if they’d just shut up and run for office.

For those driven by passionate interest, government office can be a sentence where the thoughts your mind says you need to express are silenced and muzzled to conformity of existing thinking.

What a community or a country needs is a competent government self assured and interested enough to listen to a diversity of voices. A government thinking enough to discern and sort the good ideas that they could implement for the broader benefit of the community. What a government might learn from the lone wolves is that we often survive criticism better than governments because we have thought out, researched, developed and truly believe in our own ideas.

We feel generally good about ourselves, so long as we speak we feel we contribute. We do these things of our own time and expense, we don’t want your thanks or money, we don’t need your approval, but when we have a good idea we’d appreciate your open support.

We need more vocal lone wolves and rational free thinkers who might form into or attract a larger pack of like minded citizens. To rebuild our community we need much more noise and many more ideas.

Hudson’s true tax load

What is the Town of Hudson’s average tax increase for 2017?

Finance committee mouthpiece Ron Goldenberg told the West Island Gazette the increase was in the neighbourhood of 1.6 per cent on the average home, excluding tariffs. (My boldface).

According to my calculations based on a comparison of the estimated 2016 and 2017 tax bills of nine Hudson homes, the true increase is close to 7%. (See table below)

The 2017 budget establishes four property tax rates – residential (76 cents per $100), agricultural (ditto), non-residential (81.47 cents per $100) and vacant land (91.22 cents per $100).

Then there’s something called the Total Debt Service tax – approximately nine cents per $100. This pays the debt service on 13 loan bylaws covering everything from the new firehall to culvert replacement but excluding water and sewer bylaws.

So all property owners pay two taxes – property tax and that TDS tax. To figure out your property tax bill, multiply your evaluation minus the last two digits by the property tax rate which applies to you. (Example: if your home is evaluated at $459,500, multiply 4595 by .76.) Do the same with the .0885 TDS tax. Add the two to get your basic tax bill.

Which brings us to those tariffs.

Let’s begin with water. Everyone on town water pays three tariffs. One depends on where you live. For most Hudson residents, it’s $137. Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale residents pay $287. West end residents connected to Rigaud’s Pointe à Raquette system pay $$375.

The second tariff ($78 in 2017, $65 last year) covers the debt service on Bylaw 504, which represents most of the roughly $8 million cost of a new well (now failing), the water filtration plant next to Harwood Blvd. west of Cameron and improvements to the town’s aqueducts.

The third tariff ($57 in 2017; $55.40 in 2016) is also levied on every resident on town water. Described as a tariff to repay interest and principal on Bylaw 554, this one is questionable because it relates to both the sewage treatment plant and the water filtration plant.

Next: waste management. The 2017 bill for green and blue box collection is $266 per household, up from $195 in 2016.

Now to sewer tariffs and one of Hudson’s tax fairness issues.

First, the tariffs. Residential property owners pay $314. Businesses pay between $320 and $2,750. For example, most commercial spaces pay the minimum. Hair salons, dry cleaners, pool and spa businesses, caterers and farms pay $470. Bakeries, restaurants, bars, garages and daycares pay $750. Pharmacies and grocery stores pay $2,500. Golf clubs, the yacht club, car washes and the ferry pay $2,750.

Everyone connected to the sewer system also pays $116 to cover the cost of loan Bylaw 505.

Approximately 750 of Hudson’s 2,200 doors are able to connect to the sewer system. That number includes Hudson’s three schools and both downtown churches as well as municipal buildings, but these big users are exempt from all taxes and tariffs. In lieu of taxes, the town gets a pittance from Quebec.
Now, the fairness issue.

Ten years after the sewer system’s completion, a third, or approximately 250 doors, still have not connected. According to Goldenberg, those 250 doors are exempt from sewer tariffs because they choose not to connect. If you knew you could save $436 a year on your tax bill, would you connect?

Despite repeated urgings, three administrations have refused to order reluctant sewer-dwellers to connect. Provincial regulations oblige the town to ensure all septic tanks are pumped out every second year, but many installations are due for replacement. This is why residents of Hazelwood and Kilteevan agreed to loan bylaws that cost homeowners an additional $1,150 and $1,141 respectively. Previous administrations have offered similar options other sectors of the community.

Hudson’s businesses are now on notice that the town proposes to install water meters at the property owner’s expense and tax water consumption.  Goldenberg and town manager J.P. Roy revealed at the December budget evening that the town has no plans to meter water consumption in the residential sector even though it accounts for 95% of the town’s total consumption.

I’ll get to the commercial sector when the town provides me with requested data.

All tax data by address is available online via the town’s website. The following figures are for a sampling of nine homes throughout the municipality.  Figures may be garbled, depending on the platform you’re using.

Address          Valuation         Property tax     Other taxes/tariffs*     % change        Total

Residential/ agricultural                                                                             +6.7% average
Mil rate 2017@.7602/$100
Mil rate 2016@.6973/$100

West end agricultural        $433,800       $3,300                   $650 (6,7)      +6.8% $3,950
2016                                                                  $3,025                   $672                             $3,697

West end                                 $244,900         $1,862                $482 (6,7)         +8% $2,344
2016                                     $1,708                $464                                                             $2,172

West end                    $1,145,900         $8,711                $1,014 (6,7)               +5.8% $9,991
2016                                                           $7,990               $1,455                                      $9,445

Hudson urban                $463,700        $3,525                 $810 (1,3,5,6,7)       +6.8% $4,335
2016                                                             $3,233                 $825                                       $4,058

Hudson urban             $396,900        $3,017                 $889 (1,3,5,6,7)         +5.6%  $3,906
2016                                       $2768                  $850                                                              $3,605

Hudson centre            $440,900      $3,352     $907 (1,2,3,4,5,6,)                  +6.9%  $4,259
2016                                                        $3,074     $909                                                         $3,983

Hudson urban                      $533,000       $4,052               $910 (1,3,5,6,7)        +7% $4,962
2016                                                              $3,716                    $901                                     $4,617

* Other residential taxes/tariffs

1: Water networks tariffs: Urban, $136.96; Hudson Valleys, $286.57; Pointe à Raquette, $375
2016: $97.50; Hudson Valleys, $408.50; Pointe à Raquette, $331.73
2: Urban sewer network tariff $314
2016: $345
3: Bylaw 504 (water) $78
2016: $65
4: Bylaw 505 (sewer) $116
2016: $108.62
5: Bylaw 554 (sewage, water treatment operational activities) $56.53
2106: $55.40
6: Total debt service (13 other loan bylaws) @$.0885/$100
2016: @.11/$100
7: trash and recycling $266
2016: $195

Trump’s MTTI

yzsguoThere’s a term in the data transfer industry: Mean time to innocence, or MTTI.

MTTI is defined as the length of time needed for a networking organization to prove it is not causing performance degradation on the internet or worldwide web.

Or in the case of Putin’s alleged U.S. political hacks, the time it will take to prove Russian agencies aren’t responsible for the dirty tricks the Obama administration is blaming them for.

Every day, President-elect Trump looks more like Putin’s dupe, lickspittle, dogsbody, stooge, patsy, puppet, pussy, bitch, take your pick. At today’s Senate armed services hearings on cybersecurity, senior U.S. intelligence officials from the CIA, armed forces and the Department of Homeland Security and senators from both parties were unanimous in affirming findings by the nation’s top intel advisors that the Russkies hacked and leaked Dem emails and planted fake news to change the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

The stateless freelance intel community isn’t so sure, mainly because last week’s CIA/DHS analysis was a dog’s breakfast of any crap they could come up with on short notice. Hit with the bureaucratic equivalent of the kitchen sink, non-aligned data druids had a tough time figuring out what the doc was trying to say, let alone judge it on merits.

Today’s witnesses all but admitted their initial report was over the top and promised  specific proof next week. It’ll be a tough sell to the hyper-skeptical hack community, especially after today’s Senate hearings singled out Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder living in exile in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, as a liar.

Here’s the fun part. America’s top intel brass meets tomorrow (Friday) with the President-elect after meeting with Obama today. They’re already on record that the outgoing president hasn’t done enough, so what will their reaction be when Trump asks them to prove it?

Answer: it doesn’t matter. Putin is already the winner in this game of chicken. Obama expelled Russky operatives and closed two of their spy nests, so what did Putin do? Invited their opposite numbers to a Moscow New Year’s Eve bash. Muscovites kill for those invites.

The Republicans on the committee know all this, so tomorrow’s get-together isn’t about selling the President-elect on that which he chooses not to believe.

This is a Trump loyalty test: how can he disbelieve America’s spymasters without looking like he’s in Putin’s pocket?

When it comes to Putin and Mother Russia, Donald S. Trump’s MTTI is approaching infinity.

Downtown, downtown update:

 

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Lachute’s year-round covered market greets visitors and residents. A covered market, similar to those found in a growing number of Quebec municipalities, was one of the ideas proposed by former mayor Michael Elliott. The proposal never made it onto the strategic planning list of priorities. Instead, Hudson’s administration is offering the use of town land opposite Thompson Park to a microfarming co-op in exchange for their promise to find a source of water – in the sector that isn’t supplied with town water.

Lachute’s SDC was often cited as an example during discussions about the creation of a Hudson SDC.

Lachute’s SDC was dissolved last year because business owners were fed up with being forced to pay for an organization that existed for the sake of having an SDC. To fill the need, Argenteuil County businesses reactivated an existing Lachute chamber of commerce and turned it into a regional association. Membership is voluntary and inexpensive. A self-employed person pays $115. A business pays $175 regardless of its size. Members receive all the benefits of an association – group insurance, credit card discounts and other benefits accruing from being a part of the provincial Fédération des chambres de commerce du Quebec (FCCQ)

Hudson was offered the opportunity to join the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Chambre de commerce et d’industrie (CCIVS). Among its many services to members: breakfast meetings where new members can present their businesses and all those FCCQ benefits. CCIVS self-finances by hosting a calendar of  events and operating the SAAQ licence and registration bureau on Cité-des-Jeunes. Last year, it cleared more than $400,000 from the SAAQ operation on a total budget of almost $700,000 and posted an operating surplus of over $80,000.

Yes, the CCIVS posts its financial statements online, with statements dating back to 2010. As of this morning, Hudson SDC financial statements are a closely guarded secret in clear violation of the section of Quebec’s Cities and Towns Act pertaining to SDCs.

Downtown, downtown…

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Hudson’s businesses pay more for water as a percentage of their tax bill than any other sector of town. Yet according to the town’s own data, the town centre uses a third of the water consumed by Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale. Why is the town refusing to meter residential users?

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).

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Hudson’s iconic Willow Inn closed its doors in November. Has the SDC lifted a finger to help attract and work with potential buyers?

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.