What seemed routine to a few councillors and to Champlain administrative staff wasn’t exactly routine to the five newcomers seated at the council table at the township’s first regular meeting on December 11, 2018.
In particular, proposed fee increases for day care, the recreation department and council itself were questioned by L’Orignal councillor André Roy, who asked why these increases were not part of the overall budget review for each department. Roy is serving his first term as a municipal councillor.
“Why should we approve these numbers — it’s hard to make a decision when I don’t know the revenues,” said Roy, who acknowledged that the L’Orignal campground had ended last year with a deficit.
Champlain Parks and Recreation director Lisa Burroughs said that she had not changed much for the campground, for instance, and that these feeds would be in place for five years, as a chart for the proposed prices for alcohol drinks at the community centre reflected.
But Burroughs said the document was an “evergreen” document, that could be changed next year if council wants to change it.
L’Orignal councillor Jacques Lacelle said that two years ago, a meeting had taken place with the people of L’Orignal and that they did not want to close the campground.
“What is the basis for your prices?” Roy asked.
Champlain Township treasurer Kevin Tessier replied that costs for camping within the region were consulted.
West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gerry Miner replied to Roy that approving these user fees was “not to say that there would be no more discussion.” Miner said that council could know nothing, but by approving the changes, council was at least certain that there would be another increase in revenues.
“My point is not the deficit. My point is that we are doing budget meetings in January and I don’t understand why this is not part of the same meeting. Today, we have received a bunch of prices for review,” Roy said.
“We are just cleaning up the user fees, streamlining, if you will. We removed some extra fees that no one else was charging for, like having an oven or an AC,” Burroughs said, referring to the L’Orignal campground.
“We need these new fees to move ahead with our marketing,” she added.
“I have seen years where we finalized the budget in April,” Miner said, putting forward another argument for approving the new user fees now.
But Roy argued that the work that had been done should be part of an evaluation process as budgets are prepared.
“Why can we not do this in January or February?” asked Roy.
“What will it change?” asked Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel. “There are already prices in place, she has the fees; we can add it to her budget,” Riopel said.
Champlain Township CAO Paula Knudsen likewise argued that the user fee adjustments were just housekeeping and were based on past years.
“It won’t be long before people are asking for prices,” she said.
A motion to approve the new user fees for the recreation and parks department was approved, with Roy voting against the move.
When day care user fees came up a few minutes later, Roy asked the same question about proposed salary increases and rate changes. But soon, the discussion turned to the philosophy of the municipality offering day care services.
Newly-elected councillor Violaine Tittley emphasized that Champlain Township residents have to pay the deficit for the day care and that its services are enjoyed by non-residents.
Champlain Daycare Services Coordinator said that she has, in the past, asked East Hawkesbury to invest in the Champlain Day Care service.
“They used to give funds but that has fallen by the wayside,” she said, adding that the Town of Vankleek Hill, then later, Champlain Township has offered day care services for a total of 46 years.
“But this (the day care) runs at a deficit and the non-residents don’t pay the deficit,” said Tittley. More discussion ensued about the rates.
“It’s not me who decides that,” replied Pageau.
When asked how the daily rates were calculated, Pageau said that the demand is estimated and that other day care fees are taken into consideration.
“We can’t charge $50 per day,” Pageau said, implying that parents would simply stop using the service.
“Just because we have been doing something for 46 years doesn’t mean it is the model to follow,” said Roy.
“I am coming back to my original point and that is the budget. Why are these figures being proposed now? It’s not clear to me,” Roy said.
Knudsen said that a plan had been put in place several years ago and now, the day care was in the final year of this plan.
“In this report (a report signed by Pageau and by Knudsen), we say that it is time to look again at the rates,” said Knudsen, who said that the fees had gone up by one dollar, $2 per day per year over time.
The proposed increases for the 2019 calendar year would bring in an additional $45,000 in revenues.
About 90 per cent of the children in the Champlain day care live in the township, while 7 to 10 per cent are non-residents.
“There are a lot of variables in day care,” adding that the township cannot be discriminatory in its practices.
Pageau said it is ultimately up to the municipal council whether it offers the service or not.
“This is a service offered by the municipality. It’s like the arena, camping, the library — it’s a service,” she said.
Riopel tried to conclude the discussion, asking for a resolution regarding the day care fees.
Longueuil councillor Michel Lalonde then asked if the numbers could be reviewed at budget-time.
A resolution put forward to consider the user fees at budget time was defeated.
Riopel returned to the recommendation from the day care report to approve the user fee increases. Three voted against the motion, but it was approved to accept the new user fees.
In 2018, a toddler cost $38.50 per day in day care. In 2019, the fee will be increased to $39. For non-residents, the 2018 fee was $40 per day; in 2019, the new rate will be $40.50 per day.
The rate for a daycare preschooler was $36.50 per day for residents. This fee will increase to $37 per day in 2019. For non-residents, the $37.65 per day fee will increase to $38.25 per day.
The report stated that there were no financial implications for the township, then outlined two options.
The report stated that council could approve the recommendation and raise the daycare fees and make statutory holidays payable (by the parents) to generate more revenue, thereby reducing the deficit to an acceptable level. A second option was to retain the status quo, offering very reasonable day care that is partly financed by the general budget.
The report states that there are no excesses in spending and operates on a shoestring budget. Most of the employees are contractual and the municipality does not pay any benefits to them except for vacation pay and new Labour Law changes that came into effect this year.