Your tax dollars…

At Hudson’s September meeting, council approved eight studies and expert analyses for a total cost — including taxes and expenses — well in excess of $150,000. By my rough calculation, taxpayers will have ponied up more than $300,000 in the 10 months since this council was elected.

Some consulting fees are inevitable. Quebec requires third-party engineering analysis as the basis for loan bylaws and some infrastructure projects. Other consultancy costs were inevitable with this council’s shift in orientations regarding constraints on future development and wetland/woodland protection. Others reflect the difficulty in hiring and retaining administrative staff, such as council’s approval of $20,000 plus expenses for a white-collar contractor to clear the urban planning backlog. 

Other fees appear to facilitate what the mayor used to call nice-to-haves, non-essentials — like the hiring of an architect to redesign Yacht Club Road between Main and the tracks. What’s the justification for this $17,500 expenditure?  

Another $37,200 was earmarked for a strategic planning study. Didn’t we pay $60,000 plus for a strategic planning study in 2016, still gathering dust in the municipal archives? I can’t recall the last time an incoming Hudson council agreed with the orientations of its predecessors, so why squander tax dollars on a shopping list that isn’t legally binding on the next council?

The $12,200 commercial analysis appears to be yet another attempt to resurrect the moribund Hudson SDC, or local business association. The 2009 Archer Report — commissioned for triple the price — is still sitting on the same dusty shelf in the town archives. Has anyone on council cracked it open to see if it’s still useful? 

What really burns my britches is the $28,000 for an updated Viviry Creek flow analysis and another $1,740 for a biologist to explain what it means. Is this the latest stall tactic to avoid replacing the Pine Lake dam (after having failed in the spring of 2014, Quebec insists the structure must be removed) in this mandate? Three ad-hoc citizens committees and two loan bylaws later, do councillors actually believe this latest kick at the can will produce different results than the 2014 AMEC report?

Louise Craig and I like to explore small towns like Hudson to observe how they deal with the same problems we have. This past summer, we spent a day walking around Bloomfield, a hamlet of about 600 people in Ontario’s Prince Edward County just west of Picton. There’s a creek the size of the Viviry running through town, with a dam and a millpond next to a main artery. Instead of a weir, there’s a square sluiceway which feeds into a six-foot culvert passing under the dam and the street to the other side. 
Last week we saw a similar layout in Mont-Tremblant Village, where a busy creek flows into a pond pretty close to the size of Pine Lake. At one end, a square sluiceway feeds into a culvert beneath the dam, below, and under the main drag into Lac Tremblant.
I have no engineering credentials nor expertise in small dams, but I’ve been exploring, writing and talking about Pine lake since I was a kid. it strikes me that if other municipalities have been able to solve this problem with simple, elegant fixes, why is this such a struggle? 

Finally, there’s a $27,790 update of the 2019 Maxxum intervention plan. Again, what has changed, other than the repaving of residential streets that never topped any list I saw as a councillor? Is this the pretext to rejig the list to satisfy some sectors at the expense of the majority? 

Some analysis expenses may prove to be justified, like a study to determine the usefulness of the town’s various real estate assets and giving the town a yardstick to assess whether to relocate public works to the snow dump, thus making better use of the works yard in the town core. As the editor of the Hudson Gazette, then as a councillor, I saw the waste in having the administration split among half a dozen unsuitable, substandard structures. The last council pushed to have Hudson’s ‘look and feel’ codified so that prospective builders and buyers would know what design elements were mandatory in their proposals to urban planning.

But I don’t see any of this happening. Instead, I see money being spent on what the mayor used to characterize as non-essential consulting contracts — all paid for out of the apparently bottomless ($7 million plus) accumulated surplus.

Yes, Hudson is on track for yet another operating surplus in 2022, but what that says to me is we could just as easily cut taxes and tariffs when some residents are struggling. With this year’s final tax instalment due last week and the clerk’s office compiling the list of properties in arrears for eventual sheriff’s auction, a spending spree is bad optics.

No licence to trespass

One of Hudson’s remarkable trees, this stately American chestnut is on public land and deserves protection. What if it stood on private land and the owner was concerned about security?

By now Hudson residents will have received a disquieting note from the town in the mail announcing a “mandate to inventory remarkable public and private trees.” Between Sept. 18 and Sept. 30, people identifying themselves as Enracinart team members will be identifying and geolocating potentially significant trees on public and private property throughout town.

The mayor’s letter is vague about whether the tree people have the legal right to set foot on private property. “It is possible that a specimen located on your property could be recognized as a remarkable tree. I, and council, would therefore appreciate your permission to allow Ms. Hardy and her team to inspect, measure and photograph the tree(s).”

Background: Resolution 3.9, adopted at the Aug. 1 council meeting, approved the July 14 hiring of phytoculturalist Suzanne Hardy (for $7,200 ex taxes) “to assist the town in establishing an inventory of remarkable trees on its territory.” The goal: to develop and implement a new tree policy specific to Hudson.

Resolution 3.9 doesn’t provide details, but it’s my understanding that this tree inventory is part of the runup to the proposed overhaul of Hudson’s Planning Program, the collection of bylaws that regulate urban planning.

My first reaction was that there’s no harm in seeing what remarkable trees are out there. One of Hudson’s star attractions is the stately and spectacular American chestnut at the rear of 539/541 Main. I’ve come across awesome 120-foot hemlocks in several of Hudson’s deep ravines as well as monster-muscled blue hornbeams in the lower Viviry wetland.

Blue hornbeams in the Lower Viviry wetlands: ironwoods are understorey trees that seldom grow this big. You can see why they’re called musclewoods.

But these are on public land. What impact would this tree census have on private property?

The interim control bylaw adopted early this year includes a measure to geolocate remarkable trees as part of a strategy to map a protected canopy corridor with GPS coordinates. These corridors and adjacent buffer zones would become constraints on development in a revised master plan.

More simply, the revisions would appear to further limit the right to cut trees on private property.

I think a majority of residents would agree on the need to protect the forest canopy, which is why we adopted the revised tree bylaw in 2021. The problem lies in the process.

The folks doing this remarkable-tree inventory aren’t certified tree experts. Hardy’s bio says she’s a ‘phytotechnicienne’ and botanist. Their body of work includes a 2005 Hydro-Quebec subcontract to identify 1,000 remarkable trees (no word on what happened to unremarkable trees). In 2016, Enracinart published an inventory of remarkable trees for Laval’s regional environment council and in 2012 a similar census for a Quebec City heritage site. Their biggest job: an inventory of Mount Royal’s most remarkable trees, which identified a number of unique specimens.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. From what I know, only designated town inspectors can set foot on private property without the owner’s permission, and only in the course of enforcing municipal bylaws. Anyone else requires the owner’s permission, preferably written. Anything else is called trespassing.

Moreover, the information gathered likely will be shared with the Conservation Working Group, a body of unelected citizens tasked with creating a conservation corridor. This would be a clear violation of Quebec’s Privacy Act.

As we saw with the previous council’s disastrous effort to impose a 30-metre wetland buffer throughout the town, this isn’t the sort of thing a council can do without consultation with those whose property values will be impacted.

A friend owns a woodlot which includes several enormous trees that presented a real threat to his family’s security. As currently written, the tree bylaw allowed them to be felled because they represent a public security hazard. As we were chainsawing and splitting the tonnes of lumber, he asked me whether letting the tree people onto his land means he can get the town to pony up to take down a remarkable tree that threatens to kill people and destroy his house.

I said I’d ask.