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?
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.