A signed missive, endorsed by a group of approximately 35 citizens of Franklin and Saint-Antoine-Abbé referring to themselves as Citoyens avertis engagés, was deposited at the town hall on November 21, demanding better management of public finances.
The missive includes two proposals that, the group suggests, would lower the municipal taxes paid by the residential and agricultural sectors, which saw an increase of over 25 per cent and 11 per cent respectively in 2022. Franklin froze its residential tax rate despite significant increases to property values, which generated an increase in tax revenue. The group proposes a tax break funded by transfers from the unaffected surplus. They also recommend the use of loan bylaws to finance projects included in the triennial plan, such as the purchase of a new tractor and installation of a water park.
Several group members were present for the regular municipal council meeting on December 5, where mayor Yves Métras did not address the missive directly, but noted the council was starting to work on next year’s budget and they would evaluate all recommendations submitted to the municipality.
A new tractor
Later in the meeting, the council approved an expense of $176,000 for the purchase of a new tractor. The amount is to be paid entirely from the operational budget – a decision citizen group members say flies in the face of their missive demanding the purchase be financed to spread the expense over the lifespan of the equipment.
Franklin director general Simon St-Michel cautions, however, that a loan bylaw comes with consequences and impacts on taxpayers as well. “We know times are difficult for our taxpayers and we wanted to avoid adding to the burden on citizens,” he explained in an interview. Replacing the tractor had also become urgent for the municipality, explains St-Michel, who notes the current tractor is in a sorry state and has cost around $30,000 in repairs this past year. With winter coming, he says a new tractor is “essential to our snow removal operations. We could not wait.”
As for the other long-term investments announced in the triennial plan, St-Simon says the municipality recently hired Geneviève Carrière as associate director general, and chief amongst her tasks is researching different government programs to find grants that may help finance these expenses.
Tax rates versus valuation
The former mayor, Douglas Brooks, who is involved with the citizens group, says it all comes back to the tax rate charged to citizens. He says it is misleading to imply that an increase in housing evaluation necessarily affects property owners negatively, noting the municipality has the option to adjust tax rates to limit the direct impact on taxpayers.
According to councillor Simon Brennan, “We had insufficient accounting information from the last year and a half, and this led the council to rely on data from previous years to build the 2022 budget.” He says because of this, the council was wary of coming up short. “It is not in our interests to keep the taxes high,” says Brennan. “This year was about catching up the accounting and rebuilding the administration,” he admits.
Brooks says that given the accumulated surplus, things could still have been done differently. “There are tools that are available, and they help to keep the taxes you have to pay a lot lower,” he says. “Come 2023, we [the citizens group] will have to show that we are not in favour of the way that this was done.”