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United Counties council ponders 2017 draft budget


Unless there are some serious changes demanded in the 2017 budget proposed by the counties, Prescott-Russell residents may see a small increase in their property tax bills next year. The counties have enjoyed zero tax rate hikes in past budget plans but this time there will be a small increase in the tax rate despite the cost- cutting efforts of administration and staff. “There are no serious cuts to this budget at this point,” said Stéphane Parisien, chief administrator for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), duringpresentation of the 2017 preliminary budget report at the Oct. 26 regular session. The UCPR budget proposed for next year, barring any drastic changes, totals $102,646,200, about $1.5 million more than the 2016 budget. That total includes a municipal levy of $40,935,800, which the UCPR must collect in property taxes to pay for all operation and capital works expenses not covered through provincial and federal grants and subsidies and other sources of revenue for next year. Next year’s proposed counties budget figure represents a two-per cent increase in the overall tax rate. For the average homeowner in Prescott-Russell with a house and property valued at $100,000, that means about a $16 increase to the counties’ share of their property tax bill. Commercial, industrial, agricultural and other property owners will also see increases to their tax bills, depending on what the approved rate is for their class of property. Property tax bills represent all of the municipal and other local government property tax claims. That includes town, counties, relevant school districts, and other government agencies. One factor that also

Stéphane Parisien (au centre), administrateur en chef pour les Comtés unis de Prescott-Russell, et son équipe, ont présenté leur rapport préliminaire du budget 2017. À moins que le conseil demande des changements, le budget comprend une augmentation de taxes de 2 %. —photo Gregg Chamberlain

determines whether or not property owners see much or any change in their tax bills is whether or not the value of their land and/or buildings has increased or decreased based on the annual assessment by the Ontario Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).That provincial agency does regular evaluations of property values throughout the province and provides the information for local governments to determine the final tax bills mailed out each spring. Unless there are serious changes made to either the operations or capital works portions of the 2017 preliminary budget, the final report comes up for reviewand approval at the Nov. 23 session of counties council. In his brief to themayors on counties council, Parisien outlined a few possible changes to the preliminary budget that would reduce the potential tax rate increase to less than two per cent or even zero. One big potential cut to the budget would

involve cancelling the $2 million annual allocation of subsidy funding for the eight municipalities which make up the UCPR. That was introduced in the 2016 budget as a means to help the eight municipal councils deal with their own rising budget problems. At the time the argument was that the UCPR was in a good financial position itself thanks to large reserve funds and success over the past few years in achieving budget plans that did not need tax rate hikes. The $2millionmunicipal subsidy, which is included in the 2017 preliminary report, represents a possible five per cent reduction to the UCPR budget tax rate. The idea of removing it from the UCPR budget did not suit many of themayors on counties council. “I don’t think it’s fair to take away the money we’ve allocated for the townships,” saidMayor Robert Kirby of East Hawkesbury Township. He and several other mayors noted that their own municipal budgets

for 2017 depend on their counties subsidy to help cover some needed expenses. Parisien noted other possible budget cuts but they also involve either elimination of particular grants or dropping some programs and services. None of them received support from themayors on counties council though there was discussion about reviewing the budget plan further during the November 9 committee of the whole session. “We have a decision tomake,” saidMayor Jeanne Charlebois. “If you say two per cent (increase), stick to your two per cent, and let’s make (necessary) cuts.” “During the committee of the whole session, we will have further questions on our budget,” said Mayor Gary Barton of Champlain Township. “I think if we go through the budget,” said Mayor Kirby, “I think there are places we can tweak.”

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