Hudson’s SQ refunds? Not so fast

A month ago, Feb. 5/21, I posted the following:

Seventeen MRC municipalities, including Hudson and St. Lazare, will be getting significant refunds on their 2020 Surêté du Québec bills — and a more equitable assessment system in the future. Besides receiving a $610,000 rebate sometime this month, the budgeting change means Hudson’s taxpayers will see the annual cost of the town’s SQ bill ($1,750,000 in the 2021 budget) reduced by roughly a third.

Since then, the six municipalities benefiting from the grotesquely unfair assessment structure currently in force — Vaudreuil-Dorion, Pincourt, Les Coteaux, St. Zotique, Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac and Pointe-des-Cascades — have adopted resolutions to launch legal action with the aim of annulling the Feb. 3/21 MRC resolution that would have meant a fairer method of taxing MRC municipalities for SQ policing services.

Their core argument: given that the current system has been in place since 2006, immediate changes to the structure unfairly burden their taxpayers by forcing the six to reimburse amounts already budgeted for 2020 and 2021.
The new deal was approved at a stormy Zoom meeting of the MRC’s 23 mayors by a double majority — two-thirds of municipalities representing 55% of the MRC’s total population. They were being asked to vote online on a proposal — first presented to them in November — that would reimburse 17 MRC municipalities for overbilling on their 2020 SQ assessments.
Even mayors of some subsidizing municipalities recognized the fiscal impact on towns having to find funds in their 2021 budgets to reimburse their neighbours. The mayors of 11 municipalities — including the six that benefited from the current assessment structure — supported an amendment that would have delayed application of a more equitable sharing structure until the 2022 fiscal year. It was narrowly defeated.

Voting on the original resolution, Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Guy Pilon and others opposed a proposal for a more equitable sharing of the costs of SQ services across the MRC. In 2019, the MRC’s total SQ bill was $25,972,945, including a MAMH subsidy which resulted in a collective overpayment from the 23 MRC municipalities of $7,470,008.

By making the bylaw retroactive, those six municipalities now have to find savings in their 2021 budgets to reimburse the 17 others for their 2020 SQ policing services — Les Coteaux $115,500; Pincourt $113,717; St. Zotique $135,700; Pointe-des-Cascades $24,809; Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac $13,468 and Vaudreuil-Dorion $1,788,389.

As of Friday March 5, lawyers for Bélanger Sauvé had not yet filed notice of whatever action they propose to take, but one can be reasonably sure they will seek immediate injunctive relief as the MRC sends out rebate cheques based on the MRC majority decision reached last month. Also this past Friday, Hudson received what I assume is the final MRC rebate cheque for 2019 — $360,000 minus $155,000, for a total of $206,000. (The $155,000 represents monies already rebated under the existing redistribution agreement.)

I don’t think it’s prudent for our town to spend the $610,000 we seem to be owed for 2020 until the money is in the bank. It’s a reasonable assumption that the six allegedly injured municipalities will try to convince a court that they stand to lose more if the 2020 reallocation goes ahead than any fiscal discomfort suffered by the 17 others if it doesn’t.

Either way, a legal test of Quebec’s internal equalization system for SQ policing is long overdue. The formula under which the 23 member municipalities in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC are taxed for SQ services is part of a Quebec-wide equalization scheme that has wealthy regions subsidizing the cost of policing in rural regions where sparse populations are spread out over vast areas.
On average, Quebec municipalities policed by the SQ pay 53% of the cost, Quebec the rest. But wealthy MRCs (we’re one) are assessed approximately 112%. Under the original deal, individual municipalities were refunded half of the difference between 80% and 112%.

Originally, each MRC municipality received and budgeted for SQ rebates. That was changed to the current system in 2006. Rebates are no longer refunded to individual municipalities but to MRCs, which distribute them on the basis of a formula which considers a municipality’s richesse foncière uniformatisée, or RFU, along with population and density.

The scheme underwent a significant makeover with changes to the Police Act (Chapter P-13.1, article 77: Règlement sur la somme payable par les municipalités pour les services de la Sûreté du Québec). Basically, the overhaul ensures that municipalities should be able to plan well in advance for any increases in cost, including rebates. Adopted in December 2019, the changes took effect June 14 2020, but for whatever reason, the MRC didn’t get around to dealing with the fallout until most municipalities had wrapped up 2020 and were almost done their 2021 budgets.

In November’s presentation to MRC mayors, it was explained that Hudson’s RFU is the driver behind inequitable SQ costs. Hudson, with about 5,300 residents and 37 square kilometres, has an RFU of close to $1.4 billion, a number based on the triennial property value assessments and registered real estate transactions. As a result, Hudson pays a higher per-capita cost for all RFU-based downloaded services, including SQ policing.

Hudson, with 5,300 residents, has an RFU near $1.4 billion. In 2019, its SQ bill was $1,582,568. (According to the MRC’s own numbers, Hudson’s overpayment was estimated at $610,000.) Ile Perrot, with more than twice the number of people (11,298), was billed $1,544,894. Rigaud, with just under 8,000 residents, paid $1,481,713. Les Cèdres, with 7,040 residents, paid $1,106,252. St. Zotique (8,600 residents) was charged $1,244,600.

The 2020 redistribution was even more egregious. Last year, Hudson was billed $1,617,346 for SQ services. Compare that with Rigaud, $1,531,757; L’Île Perrot, $1,624,616; Les Cèdres, $1,153,712 or St, Zotique ($1,270,846.)

[RFUs, as well as other numbers useful for comparison, are available for every municipality in Quebec on the MAMOT website.]

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