Mayor Plante's first budget features largest tax hike in years
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has delivered her administration’s first budget and it features the largest tax increases seen in years.
The hikes are on average 1.9 per cent, but coupled with the water tax comes to a total of 3.3 per cent, or $118, for homeowners – higher than the inflation rate.
Hardest hit are:
- Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie: 5.6%
- Villeray-St. Michel-Park Ex: 5.4%
- Outremont: 4.5%
- CDN-NDG: 4.2%
- Plateau-Mont-Royal: 3.2%
LaSalle had the lowest increase at 0.7% per cent.
Executive committee chairperson Benoit Dorais defended the larger hikes, saying the recently elected representatives of those boroughs had signed off on them.
"All the boroughs made their choice for the taxation," he said. "Each team decided to change the local taxes and to make them more (in line) with their needs. In Villeray-St. Michel-Park Ex, there's no more surplus. The past administration spent the surplus, so now the boroughs have to make choices to respect the needs of the population."
Plante says no promises broken
Plante had promised during her campaign that she would cut about $21 million in spending on city employees and cut property taxes.
In days after her election in November, however, Projet Montreal revealed the party had been left with a $358-million budget shortfall. That’s about 7 per cent of the City of Montreal's $5.472-billion budget.
Plante then changed her tune to say she would do her best to limit tax increases.
On Wednesday, Plante denied breaking any promises, saying the property and water taxes are different things.
"The words I chose during the campaign, the same as the past administration as well, we've always been talking about the property tax," she said. "To me, we are respecting our promise."
She added that the increase in the water tax was necessitated by Montreal's aging water system.
"We made sure the campaign to say we would not raise property tax over the inflation rate," said Plante. "This is something that was respected and is very important to us. That being said, we also decided as an administration to invest into water infrastructure. We think this is the right thing to do."
Lionel Perez, interim leader of City Hall's official opposition, called the hikes "clearly a broken promise."
"For her to try and suggest it's only certain parts and not other parts, is honestly legalese and demonstrates a lack of respect to the taxpayer," he said. "When they get a tax bill, they don't start parsing it on which line says what. They look at the total amount and the global increase."
The administration said it will continue to repair and upgrade the city's aging water infrastructures as the water tax goes up by 1.1 per cent for residential properties and 0.8 per cent for non-residential properties.
Plante said she feels the city must address the underground infrastructure and that it's better to spend the money now that when it breaks and costs more to fix.
More money for boroughs, public transit
This budget has an additional $11 million for the boroughs, an increase of 1.1 per cent, lower than the inflation rate of 2.1 per cent.
Projet Montreal also announced in its budget a $27.7 million increase to its investment in public transit, similar to last year’s increase.
None of that new money has been set aside for two of Plante’s proposals: the Pink line, and the ‘traffic squad’ that has been promised to quickly respond to traffic bottlenecks around the city.
Plante said there is some wiggle room in the transit budget to spend on studying the Pink line.
An additional $138.4 million will be set aside for roadwork this year.
In the budget highlights, Projet Montreal said it is earmarking an additional $1 million per year for a 30-member inspection team to prioritize access to property and clean housing, meaning a total $21 million investment thanks also to the home ownership assistance program.
The snow removal budget is going up by $6 million to a total $163.3 million. Last year, then-mayor Denis Coderre pulled the same amount out of the snow removal coffers, citing better management of contracts for the cost savings.
“This increase will help make operations even more effective, and it includes additional credits of $1.5 million in sidewalk salting,” the budget statement read.
Plante said she intends to increase sidewalk clearing passes to 25 times, up from the current 15 passes.
Projet Montreal also announced it is increasing its funding to the Conseil des arts to $2.5 million. It is also investing $1 million in contributions to sports organizations, with $450,000 earmarked for the sports events program, and $85,000 for outdoor activities. As well, $575,500 will be given to non-profit organizations to improve their public services
The administration also said it is currently developing a strategy to help struggling businesses affected by the construction work, though it did not mention how much money would be earmarked for the cause.
"End of spring, summer, that's what we're going for, when there's a lot of construction happening," said Plante.