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Ormstown is managing a ‘precarious’ financial situation with 2024 budget

The municipality of Ormstown narrowly adopted its budget for the 2024 fiscal year during an extraordinary municipal council meeting on December 14.

Ormstown mayor Christine McAleer presented the balanced budget, which includes projected revenues and expenses of over $7.7 million. She qualified 2023 as a difficult year, and she did not mince her words in describing the financial situation facing the municipality as precarious “like never before.”

“When we started the exercise, the tax increase [that was] needed to balance the budget exceeded 50 per cent,” she stated. As Quebec municipalities are not able by law to run a deficit, McAleer explained the council was forced to prioritize what was essential, requiring some very difficult decisions. “Each department has been scrutinized. Each expense was reviewed line by line, analyzed, and decreased where possible,” she said.

McAleer referred to the 2024 budget as disciplined and responsible. The municipality introduced a five-year plan for infrastructure last year that requires significant investments per year to carry out urgent and necessary work on the aqueduct system, as well as infrastructure to treat sewage and rainwater, and provide drinking water for the municipality.

She explained that the plan remains a priority for the council, and the budget respects this commitment. “To do this without having a major financial impact on citizens, the council decided to adjust downward the base tax rate for each of the tax categories,” said McAleer.

Lower property tax rates

The mayor also explained the impact of property evaluations on this year’s financial exercise. She noted the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent is responsible for the evaluation of the municipal assessment roll according to a three-year cycle. A new roll was completed this year after the MRC mandated the Fédération québécoise des municipalités (FQM – Évaluation) to assess the estimated value of all properties in Ormstown. As a result, property values in Ormstown have shot up by 58 per cent on average.

During the presentation, McAleer provided several examples of the impact of the municipal evaluation on citizens’ tax accounts. A private residence valued at $184,500 in 2023 will jump to $301,100 in 2024, while an agricultural property valued at $740,700 in 2023 is now estimated to be worth $1,205,100.

A significant proportion of the revenue generated by all municipalities comes from taxes based on property evaluations. The council in Ormstown was also mindful of this balance in deciding to drop its residual tax rates.

The residential tax rate will fall from $0.8118 per $100 of assessment to $0.5133/$100, which represents a decrease of nearly 30 cents per $100. The rate for agricultural properties will drop from $0.5903 to $0.5133, for a difference of just under eight cents per $100 of assessment. The rate for residences including six dwellings or more will be reduced from $0.8443 to $0.6842, or 16 cents per $100, while the commercial and industrial rates move from $1.4681 to $1.2833, or just over 18 cents.

Investments in capital program

The three-year capital investment program includes around $8.7 million in planned spending for 2024. Of this, $3.8 million will go towards the filtration plant, wastewater overflow plan, and the water and sewer network.

McAleer noted that the previous administrations also struggled with the issue of the municipality’s decrepit water infrastructure. She explained that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in studies to advance the various interrelated projects. The mayor confirmed that after two years, the planning stage is nearing completion and detailed plans will soon be sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Hopefully we will get the required approval and funding soon after,” she said.

Other highlights of the three-year program include $2 million for road maintenance and asphalting, as well as around $903,400 to revitalize sidewalks and $300,000 for the installation of a municipal splash pad.

Opposition to the budget

The budget was successfully adopted by council, but it was not a unanimous decision. Councillor for seat number two, Jacques Guilbault, voted against the budget, as did councillor number four, Eric Bourdeau.

Several residents also expressed their reservations during the question period following the budget presentation. Philippe Besombes, who lives in Ormstown and is the president of the Association des gens d’affaires d’Ormstown et des environs (AGAO+), noted he was especially concerned about the capacity of Ormstown residents and business owners to afford tax increases.

Other questions focused on the stalling of developments that would add revenue to the municipal budget. The mayor explained that the problems plaguing the water and sewer systems were negatively impacting development and noted that the state of the sewer system is such that the municipality has had to block the construction of 24 homes, because the network is unable to handle any additional load.

“Despite the planned tax increase and spending cuts for 2024, we will be continuously monitoring the budget throughout the year to see if we can decrease the tax burden in the future, while still maintaining the services citizens expect us to provide,” said McAleer.

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