The budget for the Prescott Russell Recreational Trail will be reduced by more than half, the United Counties council decided on Wednesday. That cut is among several made in order to reduce the expected tax increase in 2017.
When it was first presented on October 26, the budget included a four per cent increase in tax revenue. Council members generally agreed they wanted that to be reduced to a two per cent increase, so the counties staff went back to the drawing board, returning on November 9 with $775,400 in suggested cuts.
Those include smaller cuts like a reduction in paint costs for the Hawkesbury ambulance station of $2,000, and a $10,000 cut to the proposed $510,000 food budget at the Prescott Russell Residence. United Counties CAO Stephane Parisien said counties staff were able to save about $100,000 through small cuts, but had to go after larger budget items to make up the rest.
The usual $50,000 contribution to the Eastern Ontario Water Resource Committee was cut by half. Champlain Township will receive $67,000 less than last year to help cover the cost of security at the L’Orignal courthouse, but that reduction was suggested by Champlain Township staff – a provincial grant for court security costs is increasing in 2017.
After that, cuts were made to public works projects: a joint project with Champlain Township won’t go ahead, resulting in $75,000 in savings for the counties. East of Fournier in The Nation, $260,000 worth of roadwork on County Road 10 won’t go ahead. Another project in The Nation, on County Road 23 between the Caledonia Community Centre in St-Bernardin and Highway 417, won’t be completed in 2017, which will save $365,000.
Counties staff didn’t make any cuts to the Prescott Russell Recreational Trail, with Parisien saying he felt it was up to council to make that decision. Warden Guy Desjardins repeated his suggestion from October 26 of cutting the trail budget from $240,000 down to $100,000. “In my opinion, our roads need it,” he said. Champlain Township Mayor Gary Barton expressed some concerns about the cost of the trail in recent years, saying he would like to know how the money is spent.
Alfred-Plantagenet Mayor Fernand Dicaire said he would not support cutting the trail budget. “We’ve invested a lot into the trail,” he said, and Alfred-Plantagenet is perhaps the most affected by any changes to the trail. Ultimately, council approved Desjardin’s suggestion, with Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois and Barton voting against the motion.
Parisien suggested that the $140,000 cut from the trail budget be put towards the County Road 23 project. The trail won’t close because of this cut, he said. “I’m not sure what $140,000 is going to change in one year,” he said.
Carole Lavigne, head of economic development and tourism at the counties, the department that oversees the trail, says the details of the cuts to the trail have not yet been determined. She said it’s possible cuts will be made in the maintenance budget, which was about $84,000 last year. One way of doing that would be to work with local municipalities, which might be able to contribute to the maintenance of their own section of the trail, she said. Besides maintenance, the trail budget includes money for advertising and salaries; Lavigne said the one full-time position included in the trail budget is not at risk. Lavigne said the trail has been well-maintained in the past and guessed that users won’t notice a big difference this year. “I don’t think it should be that bad,” she said.
Council is expected to approve the final budget on November 23.